Expectations and Next to Love
By Neely Kennedy
In June’s LHJ
Book Club pick, Next to Love, author
Ellen Feldman tells the heartbreaking, but hopeful story of three women’s
lives during the paradigm shift of the Baby Boomer generation—1944-1964, spanning
WWII and the war in Vietnam.
Babe, Grace and Millie are young wives whose husbands have been drafted to fight
in WWII. When the trajectory of their future is forever changed by war’s tragic
events, their imperfect, yet steadfast, friendships prove the only constant in their
In the excerpts from the book below, Feldman illustrates a woman’s instinct
for survival—the ability to adapt to whatever twists and turns life may present.
Work: Women are constantly breaking through the barriers of perceived
gender inferiority, especially when taking on jobs traditionally (and stereotypically)
held by men.
“…her father laughed at her for applying. Who did she think she was?
He said the same thing when she went to work at Diamond’s rather than a five-and-dime.
Who did she think she was? It was the refrain of her life.”
Marriage: In the thick of a long marriage, there often comes a
point at which we recognize our original expectations were somewhat idealized.
“Babe thinks of Claude. It always comes back to Claude. Love may endure a
lifetime, but it is less reliable on a day-to-day basis.”
Friendship: Long-lasting friendships are often our greatest source
of support, but can also be complicated and painful.
“And here they are all these years later. They love one another with atavistic
ferocity, though it occurs to Babe sitting in the sunporch, these days perhaps they
do not much like one another.”
Motherhood: As we move from childhood into adulthood, we grow to
know our mothers not only as mothers, but also as humans—flawed and imperfect.
“The scene is picture perfect, a spread in one of the women’s magazines
she and Millie subscribe to. Except it can’t be because in the world of those
glossy pictures, mothers do not ask their daughters to keep secrets.”
Society: Many women struggle to meet the expectations society places
“She is ashamed of being a woman alone in the world without a man, unclaimed,
unvalued, a reproach to the laws of society and nature. When she found Charlie,
she thought she had taken care of all that for life.”
Book Club Bonus! Ask members to discuss expectations pertaining
to each of the topics above: work, marriage, friendship, motherhood, society. What
does it means to be in a relationship (romantic or platonic) without imposing your
own expectations? How we can find more personal fulfillment through expectations
we place on ourselves, instead of through our expectations of others?
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