Next to Love

Written by Ellen Feldman
Review by Michael DiSchiavi

Babe, Grace, and Millie are three lifelong friends, living in South Downs. They share more than their hopes and dreams; they also participate in a legacy, that of the Second World War. Each woman is involved with a man who is called to fight. Each relationship brings about its own consequence, forever altering the lives of all concerned.

Unlike many war novels, this one focuses not on the men who fought overseas, but on the women who were left behind, struggling to keep home and hearth together as they waited with bated breath for news of their men. After the war is over, each woman is faced with the task of reconstructing a life, with various degrees of difficulty.

As in the Orange finalist Scottsboro, Ellen Feldman successfully addresses the reigning “isms” of the day: racism and anti-Semitism. In this work, there is also allusion to what would come to be known as feminism. Working women in 1941, such as Babe, are forced to surrender their jobs to returning vets and told to return “where they belong.”

The narrative is rich and deeply moving, with multiple points of view. The story belongs to the women, with Babe dominating the text. Additionally, there is an attention to the small details of setting, not as closely seen in Feldman’s two previous novels, that creates vivid mental pictures for the reader. An excellent example of this occurs early in the text when something terrible happens to Babe; the author uses Babe’s surroundings to help move the scene along, almost giving the objects life unto themselves.

This is a stunning, extremely well-crafted page turner. I was honored to review it.