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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

'Attachments' by Rainbow Rowell

From the BLURB;

Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that someone is monitoring their interoffice email …

But they can’t quite bring themselves to take any of it very seriously. Jennifer tells Beth everything she can’t tell her husband about why she doesn’t want to start a family. And Beth tells Jennifer everything, period, especially if she thinks it will get a laugh.

Lincoln O’Neil knows that he should stop reading Beth and Jennifer’s email.

He should just send them a warning. He should have sent it the first time he caught them breaking the company rules. But they both seem so nice… They’re smart and funny and interesting, and he likes them. Especially Beth.

By the time Lincoln realizes how much he feels for Beth, it’s too late to unread all of her personal messages. And it’s way too late to introduce himself. What would he say? “Hi, I’m the guys who reads your email, and, also, I love you …”

But he can’t just do nothing. Falling for Beth makes him realize he’s been doing nothing for far too long.

It’s 1999 and the corporate world is preparing for Y2K. The Courier newspaper is getting behind the new millennium, to a degree. As a part of their recent internet introduction, they have hired twenty-nine-year-old IT guy Lincoln O’Neil to monitor staff emails and ensure there’s no funny business.

This isn’t exactly the job that Lincoln envisioned for himself upon (finally) leaving University. He thought he’d be doing proper security, stopping corporate espionage in its tracks . . . not lurking around the building at night, on the graveyard shift, and sifting through day-worker’s private emails looking for flagged offences. This is the last sort of job Lincoln needed, especially since his private life is so utterly abysmal. Still not over the high-school sweetheart who broke his heart (pummeled ad obliterated would also work) but he has recently moved home with his mother.

The one bright spot in Lincoln’s work life is Jennifer and Beth. Jennifer is a copyeditor, and Beth is her best friend and Courier movie critic. They send each other emails all the time – personal emails that fly in the face of company policy and create numerous red-flags in the WebFence security system. Emails that Lincoln has to read . . . but he never reports them. Because he likes Beth and Jennifer. But Beth especially. He likes reading about Jennifer’s marriage to the perfect guy, which could be hitting a few baby-bumps. And he laughs at Beth’s stories about her guitar-playing boyfriend who won’t take the next step.

And Lincoln especially likes reading about how Beth has labelled him as her cute guy. ‘The Cute Guy’ (TGY), to be precise. Because Lincoln feels the same attraction to her (even if she doesn’t know it), but there’s the little matter of explaining how they first met . . .

‘Attachments’ is the debut contemporary romance from Rainbow Rowell, which came out earlier this year.

I have got to give a big shout-out THANK YOU to Bree of ‘1 Girl 2 Many Books’ infamy. It was Bree’s lovely review which prompted me to read Rowell’s book. And boy oh boy, did I fall hard for Lincoln and this screw-ball, tender romance.

When we meet him, Lincoln is pretty much at rock-bottom. He has been single for more years than he’d wish to admit, never having quite gotten over the bitter ending to his high-school sweetheart and first-love. The only commitment in his life is to a Dungeons & Dragons troupe he meets with every Saturday, and he has just recently moved back home with his mother, a temporary state of affairs until he decides what he really wants to do with his life. He takes the Courier job now quite knowing the details of ‘internet security’, but feeling slightly sleazy when he realizes it entails reading personal emails and sending out warning notifications for improper use of company time. In light of the Murdoch/News of the World scandal, it’s easy to understand Lincoln’s reluctance.

While monitoring the email system, two co-workers keep popping up in Lincoln’s WebFence security – Jennifer & Beth. They bounce emails back and forth between them, discussing everything from Julia Roberts/Tom Cruise conspiracy theories, to Beth’s olive-picking Italian arms. The two best friends also share intimate secrets and personal stories – like Jennifer’s complete reluctance to cave to her husband’s wish for a baby (which doesn’t mean she won’t snap up a Baby Gap bargain when she sees one!) to Beth’s dismay at being the last of her siblings to be unwed (despite having the longest relationship with her boyfriend, Chris, which has been going for nine years now). Lincoln doesn’t send Beth and Jennifer a red-flag warning . . . not with the first email, and eventually not months after the fact. Because as he reads about their lives, inanities and funny frankness, Lincoln comes to care for both of them. And then he starts to really care for Beth . . .

Massive Kudos to Rainbow Rowell – she had two giant hurdles to overcome in ‘Attachments’, two enormous obstacles that are especially gargantuan for this being a romance novel. The first is that we, just like Lincoln, don’t actually get to read any physical scenes between Beth and Jennifer. The second is that Lincoln and Beth don’t actually, technically ever meet (or do they. . .? I won’t spoil it for you!) but they are the romantic focus of this book. Two big hurdles, and Rainbow Rowell absolutely leaps over both of them with finesse and aplomb. . .

Jennifer and Beth’s scenes, for most of the book, are in instant-messenger dialogue format. We read their email exchanges; the rapid-fire back-and-forth between two good friends who are only vaguely aware of a security presence is monitoring their banter. There are only a few pages in which Jennifer and Beth actually become physical presence, beyond just cc-ing dialogue. You would think this lack of character intimacy would create a lag between Lincoln’s infatuations with them, but Rainbow Rowell completely overcomes this through force of character. Beth and Jennifer are so real, so fleshed out, funny and relatable in their candid exchanges that (just like Lincoln) the reader forgets that we haven’t actually ‘met’ these women. Beth is particularly hilarious, quick with pop-culture references and self-deprecating black humour. Her insights come fast and furious, and had me snorting while reading. I particularly liked her bitter wedding musings, as her (younger) sister’s big day looms, Beth becomes scathingly hilarious;

And when she told us her wedding song – of course, they’ve already picked their wedding song, and of course, it’s “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong – I said that choosing that song is the sonic equivalent of buying picture frames and never replacing the photos of the models.

Jennifer and Beth aren’t just funny talking-heads though. Rowell really fleshed them out with personal problems as they share heart-breaking intimacies. Jennifer, in particular, is going through a rough patch when her husband starts her biological clock ticking . . . but, always, both women remain funny and loveable, laughing through their pain and endearing Lincoln (and readers) to them. So many times I found myself whole-heartedly agreeing with Beth & Jennifer’s observations, particularly Beth’s (since I consider myself a bit of a movie/pop-culture junkie) many of Beth’s musings had me sputtering along in utter agreement;

Have you ever seen The Goodbye Girl? Don’t watch it if you still want to enjoy romantic comedies. It makes every movie ever made starring Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock lash itself in shame. Also, don’t watch The Goodbye Girl if it would trouble you to find Richard Dreyfuss wildly attractive for the rest of your life, even when you see him in What About Bob? Or Mr. Holland’s Opus.

If anything I’m a bit peeved with Rainbow Rowell for making Beth & Jennifer so darn loveable. Because when I finished the book, I kinda wished they were real people I could call up and organize a movie-night with. Or meet up for drinks down at the pub. I was like Lincoln who had become addicted to their repartee – I wished them to be real, to inhabit this world. Sappy, I know, but I love when fictional characters make me wish they were real through their sheer awesomeness.

And then there’s Lincoln O’Neil. *Sigh*. This, right here ladies, is one hell of a fella. Lincoln is sensitive and caring, he’s funny and handsome (John Wayne handsome, ‘manly’ handsome of the old-school variety). He was never a cliché, and he made me swoon. He’s the good guy, the one who usually finishes last, but should be first in everybody’s book. When we meet him he’s still nursing a broken heart and cursed with low self-esteem. But through it all he remains a gentleman and gentle giant. My God, I loved him.

Rainbow Rowell proves herself a formidable force in the contemporary romance genre with this debut. It’s brilliant, not least of all because two of the main characters are scene-stealers who don’t actually have scenes, and the main romance involves the guy falling for the girl (without seeing her) and the girl falling for the guy (without knowing who he is . . . while he secretly knows every little thing about her). ‘Attachments’ is incredible, and I cannot wait to read more from Rainbow Rowell; something tells me she’s here to stay, and will be a firm-fixture on my readings lists for many years to come.


Coming April 12th, 2012

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the shout-out! Glad you loved this one too - I get SO excited when other people love books just as much as I do.


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