Synopses & Reviews
For fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, The Postmistress, and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a story of love, war, loss, and the scars they leave set during the years of World War II and its aftermath.
Set in a small town in Massachusetts, Next to Love follows three childhood friends, Babe, Millie, and Grace, whose lives are unmoored when their men are called to duty. And yet the changes that are thrust upon them move them in directions they never dreamed possible—while their husbands and boyfriends are enduring their own transformations. In the decades that follow, the three friends lose their innocence, struggle to raise their children, and find meaning and love in unexpected places. And as they change, so does America—from a country in which people know their place in the social hierarchy to a world in which feminism, the Civil Rights movement, and technological innovations present new possibilities—and uncertainties. And yet Babe, Millie, and Grace remain bonded by their past, even as their children grow up and away and a new society rises from the ashes of the war.
Beautifully crafted and unforgettable, Next to Love depicts the enduring power of love and friendship, and illuminates a transformational moment in American history.
"Feldman's latest (after Scottsboro) follows three female friends through WWII and into the '60s as lives, loves, and perceptions change both within and without. Bostonians Babe, Grace, and Millie don't want to lose the men they love to the looming war in Europe. So Grace and Millie marry their boyfriends before they ship out; Babe, on the other hand, follows Claude to his Southern Army base before he's due to join the fight in England, but is raped before reaching him. Grace and Millie's husbands die in battle, and Claude returns a changed man. The three old friends navigate life in a tumultuous era of social upheaval, holding to the belief that happiness lies in finding the right man. Babe, the quintessential girl from the wrong side of the tracks and a very sympathetic character, is determined to have life and love on her own terms. Grace and Millie, however, continue to hope for rescue and fail to learn from their mistakes. Feldman adopts multiple points of view and sticks to the awkward present tense, which instead of bringing immediacy pushes the reader away. A section of letters, though, is beautifully rendered, illuminating the characters and advancing the plot. Feldman's portrait of an era, and its women, is both well drawn and frustrating. (July)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Advanced Praise for Next to Love
“Next to Love is a beautiful, sometimes heartbreaking story about love and war and what comes after. A breakthrough work by a writer who has already established herself as one of our best historical novelists.”
—Kevin Baker, author of Dreamland
“A powerful, haunting, deeply ambitious novel about love and war, impeccably executed, impossible to put down.”—Stacy Schiff, author of Cleopatra: A Life
Reading Group Guide
1. For nine years, Babe keeps a terrible secret. How much of a toll do you think it takes on her? Does her hardscrabble background make her tougher than Grace and Millie in the face of adversity?
2. In the post WWII era, combat fatigue, or what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, was a dark secret. There was little therapy, and no support groups existed. Do you think in that era Babe could have found better ways to cope with Claude’s problems? Should she have insisted they have a child? How much do you think she regrets not having one? Would you have blamed her if she left him?
3. Grace and Millie have diametrically opposite reactions to losing their husbands, and both think they are trying to protect their children. Do you think they really believed that or were they merely justifying their own predilections? What effect does Grace’s behavior have on her daughter Amy? What does Millie’s have on her son Jack?
4. Is Grace really so devoted to Charlie’s memory or is she afraid of a new relationship? What does her breakdown in the front yard say about her feelings toward her late husband and herself?
5. Is Millie callous or a fierce survivor? Do you see her as a manipulative wife and mother or a woman trying to protect her family?
6. In an era that regarded misfortune as something to be ashamed of and silent suffering as a virtue, all three women keep secrets from husbands, children, and one another. Our own era believes in openness as a cure, or at least a form of solace. Do you think Babe, Grace, and Millie would have had an easier time of it if they had shared their problems and unhappiness?
7. Grace’s father-in-law King often behaves badly, resenting and punishing vets who returned from the war. Can you sympathize with his heartbreak and loss nonetheless? What does the sexual advice he gives Grace say about the mores and beliefs of the era?
8. The psychiatrist tells Grace the solution to her problem is a husband. Were you surprised at how hidebound America was at the time or do you think in many ways –- race, religion, gender, sex -- we have not changed as much as we think?
9. How do you interpret the triangle of Grace, Mac, and Morris? Do you think they would behave differently today? What would you have done in Grace’s place after she married Morris?
10. This is a book about three women who are friends from childhood, but their friendship is occasionally rocky. Do you think the recent spate of books and movies about women’s friendship romanticize the relationship as we used to romanticize men-women relationships?
11. Babe was a poor girl who married into the middle class. Both of Grace’s husbands had plenty of money. After the war, Millie’s husband Al makes a small fortune. Yet their lives remain in many way similar. They have cleaning women but not staffs of maids, nannies, and drivers. They shop, but not excessively. What do you think this says about the beginning of the most prosperous period in America’s history and our own era?