Tag Archives: Relationships

Next to Love by Ellen Feldman

3rd July 2012

*Received this book from Random House. Published by Spiegel & Grau.

“War…next to love, has most captured the world’s imagination.” -Eric Partridge, 1914

In 1941, Babe, Millie, and Grace send their men off to war, trying to maintain brave facades, wanting to display confidence to a world who has lost its confidence in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Grace’s husband, a reporter, leaves his wife, young daughter, and devoted father for the front. Millie’s new husband  (and former playboy) writes her enthusiastic letters, full of bravado and swagger. Babe sees Claude off to training, no ring on her finger, only to receive a letter telling her he can’t leave without having her as his wife. But this is war, and not everyone comes home, and those who do are far different men from the ones who waved goodbye.

Next to Love tells the story you never see in World War II-era movies. In those films, couples kiss and confetti falls. There are joyful reunions. There are unhappy tears, of course, but they are quickly dried up. You never see the shell-shocked WWII vet, sitting and staring off into space, reliving the war or the man who hits the floor when a fire alarm sounds. You don’t hear the stories of devastated widows, the ones who shut down and those who hide the grief. Feldman hands you these women’s grief and asks why not.

It’s also a story of female friendship in the days before Sex and the City, when women keep their private lives private even from their best friends, unable to speak their minds fully. Their anger and hurt and frustration is tucked away, and they have internal monologues, berating themselves, trying to be better, trying not to be their mothers, trying to be the happy faces of people who weren’t at war. Then there are the women whose husbands are back but not whole. Women who are nurses and bedfellows but no longer wives and lovers.

Then there are the men – men so unused to niceties and everyday life – who are expected to snap to and fall back in line, going back to work and trying to be the husbands and fathers they’re expected to be. The women whose jobs are suddenly taken from them, who had a sense of duty and purpose are now handed cookbooks with recipes that take hours to produce.  At one point, Babe, one of the main characters, stands outside the Western Union where she worked during the war, holding her breath as government-sanctioned news came in:

She has no desire to go back to those days. Only a crazy woman would want to go back to a life of constant fear, aching longing, and unbearable loneliness. Only a fool would want to go back to that office reeking of death and grief. But it was her own front line in the war, and for three years she womaned it with a singleness of purpose. That is what she misses. Being useful. Having a cause….She has become a war lover.

And by the point in the book where she utters her confession, you understand. These women didn’t love the war, but they loved the moment in time where they were proud of their country, scared and nervous and lonely as they were, they sent their men off with pride. But the reality of loss and the pain of an altogether different loneliness strikes each of them in heartbreaking ways.

Next to Love is an unapologetically realistic look at life after war, and it’s lovingly and beautifully done. I didn’t love these people, but I also haven’t been to war and haven’t experienced the lives they have. They’re bitter and unhappy and unhappy that they’re bitter, yet I felt I had a slightly better understanding of the post-war generation after reading this book than perhaps anything I’ve read to date.

Buy this from Barnes & Noble or for your Nook, or order it from Indiebound.

You also have until midnight tonight to win this book and others by commenting on my BEA post.

Picky Boy: The Kids Are All Right

14th July 2010

When I sat down to watch The Kids Are All Right, my mind was on other things. The pizza I’d just eaten (it was alright)…the Cole Haan shoes I want to buy (I can’t afford them)…the A/C unit we desperately need in our living room (wouldn’t it be nice?).

I simply wasn’t prepared.

Here I sit, two days later, and I cannot stop thinking about this movie. Just a quick synopsis for those of you residing in places where this film probably won’t be released: The Kids Are All Right, written by Lisa Cholodenko, centers around two lesbians, Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), whose two teenage children have decided to exercise their age-determined right to contact the sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo) their moms used to conceive them.

That’s what you could say if someone asks what the film is about. But you’d be underselling it by a long shot.

First things first: The acting is phenomenal.

Though she is wonderful in The Hours and Far from Heaven, it’s so nice to see Julianne Moore successfully tackle a current woman again. Her portrayal of Jules is unnervingly honest and I was reminded of the gritty ‘Moore of yore’ in Magnolia and Boogie Nights …and as to why I regard her as a truly great actress.

Once again, I was charmed by Mark Ruffalo who stole my affection years ago as the bumbling, loveable druggie inYou Can Count on Me.

And Annette Bening is perfection as the uptight, breadwinning and wine-loving matriarch, Nic. Bening, prone to roles in which she gets to stretch her overdramatic muscles (a la American Beauty and Being Julia), unwaveringly steamboats her way through this film, unafraid to knock anyone from her path in quick, concise judo chops of wit & severe candor.




The Kids Are All Right

It would be sophomoric to claim that this movie is a statement about gay couples with children. There are so many currents pulsing through The Kids Are All Right, it is difficult to classify the film. It’s hysterical without pause to beg for laughter and it’s heart-wrenching without device-motivated melodramatic outbursts.

I guess it suffices to say the movie is true. It’s a glimpse into a home, not just a family unit. They have fun together, smother each other, support each other, say hurtful things and do even more hurtful things to each other. They laugh, cry, yell and curse. The parents have sex (gasp, it’s two women!).  The kids holler and stomp up the stairs, screaming (You just don’t understand!). The film boldly and unapologetically explores the complexity of relationships and illuminates what can happen if we become complacent and stop seeing the ones we love when they’re right in front of us.

In one pivotal scene, Jules interrupts her family watching a television program to apologize. Through tears, she explains that “marriage is hard. It’s fucking hard.” And all of a sudden, as a viewer, I was struck with the clamor of the film’s voice. The sexuality and gender of this couple…it’s irrelevant. No one is exempt from making mistakes or above hurting the ones we love (especially the ones we love). Even those who have fought for the right to be with the person they love or to be able to adopt/have children. No matter the partnership, be it a straight or gay couple, committing your life to another person is a process. And it’s hard. Year after year, the game changes. You grow, you learn—about yourself and your partner. Life is in constant flux and the world changes around you. For you to somehow change as a unit…how can one not make mistakes along the way? It’s how we approach the resolution, that’s the key. Is it worth fighting for? Has too much time passed? Were we looking for an out anyway? Can we mend this? There are so many questions when trust is broken. It’s refreshing to see a film approach these issues in a mature, realistic manner.

I strongly recommend seeing The Kids Are All Right, alright? It’s a beautiful film with a lot to say, so listen up. Picky boy out!