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A Reader of Fictions: Not the Same - Ben Folds

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Monday, May 14, 2012

Not the Same - Ben Folds

Next to Love

Author: Ellen Feldman
Pages: 320
ARC Acquired from: Random House via NetGalley

Description from Goodreads:
It’s 1941. Babe throws like a boy, thinks for herself, and never expects to escape the poor section of her quiet Massachusetts town. Then World War II breaks out, and everything changes. Her friend Grace, married to a reporter on the local paper, fears being left alone with her infant daughter when her husband ships out; Millie, the third member of their childhood trio, now weds the boy who always refused to settle down; and Babe wonders if she should marry Claude, who even as a child could never harm a living thing. As the war rages abroad, life on the home front undergoes its own battles and victories; and when the men return, and civilian life resumes, nothing can go back to quite the way it was.

From postwar traumas to women’s rights, racial injustice to anti-Semitism, Babe, Grace, and Millie experience the dislocations, the acute pains, and the exhilaration of a society in flux. Along the way, they will learn what it means to be a wife, a mother, a friend, a fighter, and a survivor. Beautiful, startling, and heartbreaking, Next to Love is a love letter to the brave women who shaped a nation’s destiny.

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

Next to Love is much larger in scope than I anticipated, again because I tend to avoid reading blurbs in full, since they occasionally have spoilers. Anyway, I expected this to be a novel about WWII, and certainly that's a big chunk of it, but, even more, this is a story about war and its effect on families, especially women.

The novel tells the story of three different women, friends, Babe, Grace and Millie. All three get married before their husbands ship off to fight in Europe. These women are all different in their situations, their motivations and their expectations. Two of them do not get their husbands back; one does. One can recover from her husband's loss; one cannot. Even the woman who got her husband back discovered that just because he returned, it does not mean he is the same man that you married years before.

The perspective of these women waiting at home is entirely engrossing to me. They get jobs, do their part in the war effort, knowing, whether they will it or not, that they will have to give up their new found independence when the men come home. The whole concept of war brides, of all of the marriages that take place as men are about to set out for war, is entirely absurd to me. I mean, I get the desire for closeness and comfort, but the men are going to come back so completely different, and, in most cases, the courtship is so rushed they hardly knew one another in the first place.

Once the war ends, Feldman treats us to a view of post-war America, incorporating the fight for civil rights and the effects of WWII upon the next generation. The women's kids are now old enough to be dating and getting married and holding down jobs, and they are so completely messed up. The loss of their fathers or the mother's reaction to his loss is something that affects them permanently, or so it seems.

Next to Love is not a happy story. Actually, it left me rather emotionally ravaged at several points. Both of my favorite characters are raped (one instance might not be, but it was definitely in the date rape family). Even the most solid relationships have serious issues that never really get resolved. This is not a book to read when you're hoping to be uplifted.

What I love about WWII historical fiction is how many tales there are to tell, and, many as I've read, I still learn something new in every book. Next to Love makes a wonderful addition to this category, especially because of its focus upon the role of women.

Rating: 4/5

Favorite Quote: " 'The official line is that, after the war, women couldn't wait to leave the offices and assembly lines and government agencies. But the real story was that the economy couldn't have men coming home without women going home, not unless it wanted a lot of unemployed vets. So the problem became unemployed women. "How you gonna keep us down on the farm after we've seen the world,"' she ad-libs to the old World War I tune. 'Enter the women's magazines, and cookbook publishers, and all these advertising agencies carrying on about the scourge of germs in the toilet bowl, and scuffs on the kitchen floor, and, my favorite, house B.O. Enter chicken hash that takes two and a half hours to prepare. I can just hear them sitting around the conference tables. "That'll keep the gals out of trouble."' "

"You see 'em drop like flies from the bright sunny skies
They come knocking at your door with this look in their eyes
You've got one good trick and you're hanging on you're hanging on...
To it

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