Next to Love by Ellen Feldman
Published by Spiegel & Grau ISBN 978-0812992717
A look at WWII and its aftermath on three women who sent their men off to war, people who liked Sarah Blake's THE POSTMISTRESS will be drawn to this well-written novel. Feldman based this book on a small town in Virginia that lost 19 men in a population of 3000. From that true story, she imagines the effect of losing so many young men on such a small town.
Babe finds meaningful, if many times sorrowful, work at Western Union, relaying telegrams to waiting families. I found this section of the book haunting, particularly the days following DDay when the town lost many young men, men Babe knew well.
Babe's husband Claude comes home maimed physically and emotionally, but two of his friends didn't make it home. Grace and her baby daughter Amy suffer the loss of Charlie, loving husband and father, a loss that resonates deeply for a very long time for both of them. Millie and her baby Jack lose Pete, but Millie finds a new love, and her remarriage faces ugly anti-Semitism that effects them all in different ways.
The author makes you care about the characters, all of whom deal with war and death in their own way. Grace is so overwhelmed with sadness, it it something she feels she cannot escape. I felt so bad for Grace, even when she appears to overcome, it is a hollow victory. Babe is a character who shows the most depth and growth, and her relationship with Claude was realistic. Millie seemed the least well drawn to me, I found her son Jack's story more interesting.
The constant time changes in the story took awhile to get used to; I found it at times difficult to keep things straight. I also would have liked to heard more from Claude, and Mac, another war survivor and Pete's brother, but at heart this is the women's story. So many women lost the loves of their lives in WWII, and the ones that did come home were often different men than the ones with whom they fell in love. Feldman succeeds in recreating a time in our history with characters you feel deeply for and want to know more about.
rating 4 of 5