“What did he have to mope about, really? What more did he want?…Love. Purpose. Those are the things that you can’t plan for. Those are the things that just happen. And what if they don’t happen? Do you spend your whole life pining for them? Waiting to be happy?”
The Courier newspaper is being dragged kicking and screaming into the new millennium as Y2K creeps closer. The management would rather their employees didn’t have access to the internet, or email, but that really isn’t an option anymore. Enter Lincoln, over-educated, and under-achieving, still living at home and not sure what he wants to do with his life. Lincoln is hired to work the night shift on the newspaper IT desk, where his job primarily consists of reading the emails flagged by the computer software that monitors every interaction. Mostly, he issues the occasional warning about pornography or web gambling. Courier reporters Beth and Jennifer theoretically know that someone is monitoring their email, but they don’t seem to care. And although Lincoln knows they’re technically violating the rules by using their work email for personal communications, he can’t quite bring himself to issue a warning. But he can’t seem to stop reading their conversations, either. Before he knows it, he realizes he has fallen for Beth, but how can he possibly introduce himself to someone whose email he’s been reading?
Rainbow Rowell’s first novel, before her breakout success with Eleanor & Park, Attachments is told in alternating chapters, one from Lincoln’s POV, followed by a chapter of made up of email exchanges between Beth and Jennifer. This necessitates a lot of written revelations that most people wouldn’t dare make on their work email today. I could accept that the conceit of the book allowed us to see Jennifer and Beth only as they appeared in their email, but I wanted more from Lincoln’s POV chapters. I wanted to understand how and why Lincoln’s life went astray, aside from breaking up with his first girlfriend, Sam, nine years before, which is a good precipitating incident, but not a complete explanation. The many flashbacks and emails make for a relatively slow start, so that the conclusion seems very abrupt by comparison.
Despite some issues with structure and pacing, Rowell has a great knack for creating wonderful romantic moments out of mundane details. You can see early glimmers of Rowell’s talent for YA romance in Lincoln’s memories of Sam, and Beth’s description of how she met her boyfriend, Chris. Despite these moments of picture-perfect romance, Rowell also writes relationships with realistic complexities. Beth and Chris live together, but her hours as reporter are at odds with his schedule as an aspiring musician. Jennifer and her husband, Mitch, are mostly happy, but Mitch has baby-fever, while Jennifer isn’t sure she really wants kids at all. There are so many different kinds of love in this book, from Lincoln’s first love with Sam, to Beth’s story of falling in love with someone who always left her wanting more, to Lincoln’s friends, Dave and Christine, who are married with kids, but still host Dungeons and Dragons every weekend. And beyond romantic love, there is friendship and family, from Beth and Jennifer’s supportive bond, to Lincoln’s difficult relationship with his mother and sister.
Quirky and charming, Attachments lacks the polish of Rowell’s more recent work, but has enough of Rowell’s signature wit and humour to satisfy fans.
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