NEXT TO LOVE – Ellen Feldman
Random House (Spiegel & Grau )
Women’s Historical Fiction
When the U.S. enters the war in 1941, the world changes as the men go off to fight, and the women are left at home taking over the jobs the men leave behind. Couples are marrying quickly not knowing what the next day will bring. When Babe gets a letter from her boyfriend, Claude, asking her to marry him, she catches a train to the camp where he is stationed. The trains are bursting with servicemen, wives, and girl friends, mostly people who live in small towns and have never been away from home. Babe, an unsophisticated young woman, has a horrific experience while traveling. She blames herself, but is determined to move on. Babe and Claude marry, and she follows him from camp to camp until Claude leaves for England, and Babe returns home.
Babe is happy to get a job with Western Union in 1942. She receives the ticker tape, sets up the telegrams sent by the war department, and sees that they are delivered. She receives wonderful, loving letters from Claude and prays that he will be safe. Their friends, Millie and Pete, are also corresponding; Millie is due to have her baby any day while Pete is overseas. Another special couple is Gracie and Charlie who write about their little girl, Amy; they reminisce and enthusiastically plan for the future. Will these three men stay safe throughout the coming conflict?
In 1945, some men return home and others do not. They look older and feel different about their loved ones; they know the difference is mostly within themselves as they deal with the aftermath of war. The war widows suffer bereavement and loneliness, trying to put their lives back together.
Lunch counters, teletypewriters, and women taking the jobs previously held by men…war has come to the United States. NEXT TO LOVE is the story of three women who have known each since they were children. Will the men all come home, back to their wives who are waiting for them? They watch the mailbox for letters—the soldiers writing about their experiences overseas, and the women waiting and praying while writing about their everyday lives. Although the people deplore what happened to the Jews in Germany, there is still prejudice against Jews and Blacks in the small town. The story moves through the war and continues to relate how the three women and their families fare as the years roll by.
NEXT TO LOVE is a beautifully written, poignant novel as the world loses some of its innocence and lives are changed forever. It is a realistic, heartfelt tale of love and heartbreak, a story that readers won’t want to put down.