Monday, June 6, 2011

Next to Love: Ellen Feldman

Title: Next to Love
Author: Ellen Feldman

Genre: Fiction (Historical / American / WWII / 1950s /1960s)
Publisher/Publication Date: Spiegel & Grau (7/26/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked to nearly loved.
Did I finish?: Yes -- in about six hours.
One-sentence summary: World War II and the aftermath is felt for decades in the lives of three women from a small Massachusetts town.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Yes -- it's a little pat WWII-ish and I wish it might have shown a telegram (referencing one of Babe's jobs), but the pictures and letters convey some of the story's bittersweet arc about communication and memories.

I'm reminded of...: Penelope Lively, Cynthia Ozick, Valerie Martin

First line: In the year and a half Babe Huggins has worked for Western Union, she has been late only once.

Did... I literally lose myself in this book?: YES. I woke up Sunday and picked this up to thumb through while waiting for my coffee to finish brewing; when I next looked up, three hours had passed, the coffee was cold, and I was nearly finished. It was that good.

Does... this novel have a very British feel to it?: YES.  Something about the narrative style felt very reminiscent of an British novel -- so much so that I looked up Feldman's bio twice to see if she was British or had British roots.

Do... I suspect this novel is set in a fictional Concord?: YES.  Based only on the mention of a 'pond' the town swims in, and the proximity of Springfield and Boston, I've decided the novel is set there.  That's likely wrong, but it helped my mental movie as I read!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Absolutely borrow.

Why did I get this book?: I've been dying to read Feldman's novel Scottsboro which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2009, so when this came up as an option to review, I jumped on it.

Review: The title, which I initially found odd (I was reminded a bit of the cheesy Ewan MacGregor flick Down with Love), is from a marvelous quote which encapsulates one of the themes of the novel: " to love, has most captured the world's imagination." (Eric Partridge, 1914).

Spanning 1941 through 1964, this engrossing book follows three women from a small Massachusetts town: Babe, Grace, and Millie.  Much of the novel is about the impact of World War II on their lives in this town -- the ones who died in the war and the ones who came back -- but it is also more than a war novel.  In the decades that follow the war, as the country tries to move on, Babe, Grace, and Millie struggle with the balance of remembering and forgetting, obeying the roles expected of a woman, and living for themselves and living for their families.

In Feldman's writing style, I found a kind of distance between myself and the characters, but it seemed to echo the distance between the characters themselves.  Babe, Grace, and Millie were best friends since childhood, yet they kept so much of their heartache and pain private from their spouses, friends, and children.  That narrative distance, however, wasn't an obstacle in caring about the three heroines; rather, it gave me a knot in my throat and a desire to hug each one of them -- and an awareness that were I in a room with them, I probably wouldn't have the courage to do so.  The hesitation and closeting of pain, confusion, and frustration was beautifully articulated and moving; I never felt the story turned toward overly melodramatic or cheesy.  At the novel's close, I felt a mix of hope and sorrow -- and I wished that the novel were twice its size so I could follow Babe, Grace, and Millie for another twenty years.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!  I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Next to Love to one lucky reader!  To enter, leave a comment with your email address.  Open to US/CA readers, ends 7/1.


  1. Concord is one of my favorite places in the U.S. so I'm definitely down for this one :) Adding it to my TBR.

  2. Lol, poor coffee. But I do love loosing myself in a book. I have done it, one time it was suddenly 2 AM and I had not moved since dinner

  3. One of the things that I haven't been overloaded with when it comes to books about WWII is the lives of the women who lived through it. This sounds like a fascinating book, and I just loved your review. Glad to hear that you loved it, and I would love a chance to read it as well, so please consider me for your giveaway!


  4. I love these stories about love during the war. It seems to amazing peoples lives and what they endured. Thanks for the giveaway!


  5. Love WWII stories. Please enter me.
    Amandask66 AT gmail DOT com.

  6. I really like the way you structure your reviews. Thanks so much for being on the tour and sharing your thoughts with your readers!

  7. @Zibilee: Exactly -- the spouses and vets are obviously present but it's the process of grieving (and not grieving), living (or trying to), that was so moving about this novel. It wasn't trite, either, even if the themes and problems felt familiar: I was really moved and touched by Feldman's prose.

  8. Have you read The Postmistress by Sarah Blake? It is also about three women, a Massachusetts town and the effects of WWII. It's one of those buzzed-about type of novels (see The Help) but I was underwhelmed.

    Next to Love sounds more promising, and I like that it tracks the women for several years.

    arcookson at yahoodotcom

  9. @Peppermint: I suppose it could be many MA towns but I just had a hunch about it possibly being Concord -- perhaps because I've been there. Def pick up if you can -- it's such a moving book.

    @Blodeuedd: It's true! This book just didn't let me go!

    @Margaret: I'll be honest, I'm not always a fan of post war fic because I find the (un)recovery so painful to be with -- but what I enjoyed abt this novel was that it was uncomfortable and moving at the same time.

    @Lisa: Thank you!! I'm so glad I got this one!

    @Herstory: I haven't -- I haven't picked it up for that reason -- but I was so pleasantly surprised to see how much time was covered in this book. It was quite lovely to see how these marriages developed and changed. It actually makes me want to pick up Sadie Jones' Small Wars again because there are some similarities in feel in the writing.

  10. Thanks for this review - I had not heard of this book before this review. I have only read one book set around WWII and that was the Postmistress - which I too was underwhelmed with. I think I only really enjoyed it because of the audio version. This sounds fascinating.

    Please enter me! dolleygurl[at]hotmail[dot]com

  11. sounds interesting for the perspectives of these women

  12. Is the luck still with me to win this WWII novel?! I love the setting -- Massachusetts -- I'm from there originally and my family still lives there...mostly.

    I would love to read this...wonderful review by the way. I really like how you point out what the books remind you of in terms of other authors, etc.

    savvyverseandwit at gmail

  13. I've been reading WWII stories back to back lately. =)
    tiredwkids at live dot com

  14. Sounds great! Nice review :)


  15. Count me in please! Thanks.

    unforgetable_dreamer_always (at) hotmail (dot) com

  16. thanks for the chance to read this wonderful story :)

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

  17. I've heard that the whole Concord area is very scenic and beautiful. I've never been, but I'd love to make that trip via this book. Thank you so much for hosting this giveaway.

    GFC Follower: ~Enamored Soul~
    Email: Enamoredsoul(at)gmail(dot)com
    Twitter: @inluvwithbookz

  18. This sounds great. I grew up in New England and also have a daughter named Millie!
    Thanks for the chance to win!

  19. I would love to read this, I love American Historical Fiction in that time period and there is just too little of it. All loved your review.


  20. Your one sentence summary let me know that I should put my hat into the ring for a copy of NEXT TO LOVE.

    Thank you,

    poofbooks (at) gmail (d0t) come

  21. Glad to hear you really liked it! I'm starting it soon for my tour date next week. :)

  22. No need to enter me (I have a galley calling out to me from the shelves!), but I'm so glad you loved this one. Scottsboro was one of my favorite reads the year I read it, and I'm really looking forward to this one!

  23. I've heard good things about this one and am definitely intrigued, especially after you mentioned the novel has a very British feel to it! SOLD. I'm an anglophile through and through.

    Would love to be entered to win -- thanks!

    writing.meg [at]

  24. Great review, I'd love to win!


  25. Oh I can't wait to read this!!!!

  26. This sounds like a great book. I enjoy historical fiction.


  27. I have been loving Historical Fiction lately. I would absolutely be thrilled if I won it.

    Congratulations to whoever is the winner!

  28. First of all: I LOVE the cover!! Every love story that has to do with WWII count me in!! Im nuts for this kind of stories plus romance!!

    GFC: Gisele Alvarado

  29. Oh, you absolutely should read SCOTTSBORO! I loved it! Feldman has a real gift for evoking time and place. I've got NEXT TO LOVE on my wishlist, so I would be thrilled to win a copy. Thank you for the chance!

    geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com

  30. A great storyline and a super book to win and read.

    cenya2 at hotmail dot com

  31. forgot to leave my email when I posted earlier :/