Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
Lincoln O'Neill's job at Omaha's Courier newspaper is in security, but he doesn't play the standard role of blocking viruses and thwarting hackers. Lincoln reads emails. More specifically, he monitors a program that flags every uncensored email an employee sends. Everyone at The Courier knows someone is monitoring their email, but no one has seen him, and Lincoln's long night hours make him nearly invisible at the office. Jennifer and Beth are two employees who break the censorship rule -- often. In rebellious defiance of company policy the two women send endless emails to each other during their work hours, hilarious and honest emails discussing their personal lives as they help each other through different struggles. Jennifer isn't ready to start a family, but her husband couldn't be more excited at the prospect of having a baby. Beth's relationship with her college boyfriend, metal guitarist Chris, is on a perpetually rocky road, and with her younger sister getting married ahead of her Beth is more than willing to exercise her sharp tongue in her daily emails to Jennifer. Lincoln knows he shouldn't be reading their emails, knows he should send them a warning and move on; but the prospect of no longer getting Beth and Jennifer's funny and charming emails every day is something he doesn't want to face. Soon not getting involved will get him in over his head - especially when he starts falling for Beth.
Attachments, Rainbow Rowell's 2011 debut, is one of those novels that defy classification or comparison because it’s just so wonderfully original. Her characters instantly become charming and familiar friends, which is in itself impressive for a debut, but perhaps most remarkable is the way, in Jennifer and Beth’s case, Rowell constructs such heartwarming characters entirely from email correspondence. For a large portion of the story Rowell leaves narrative behind to convey the personalities of her two female characters only through their emails to each other, leaving the reader to get to know them in the exact same way Lincoln does. There’s a lot to give up in writing like this and it could be a gamble; the reader doesn’t get to see how the characters physically behave, what their movements say about them; body language and the emotiveness of physicality are gone. But somehow the fullness of the characters is still rendered, and rendered very well; it was simultaneously surprising and refreshing to see female characters presented in such vividness without the need to build their appearance into the story. In fact, Jennifer and Beth almost come more to life through their emails to each other than even the charismatic Lincoln, who becomes the only main character that Rowell’s interweaving narrative follows. This struck me as an inspired reimagining of the typical structure of a novel and especially a great example of creative character development.
Another great uniqueness in Attachments is the way Rowell manages to turn the traditional romantic-comedy tables on the sexes: Lincoln as the protagonist is the one to fall in love and pine for the unreachable, seemingly perfect girl. But there’s also a lot more to the story, which keeps it one step ahead of the reader in getting caught on any clichés. When some heavy topics graze the edges of the story Rowell keeps her effervescent narrative light and airy, yet full of so much quirky substance that the reader isn’t likely to feel lulled into the sort of over-familiarity that can lead to boredom or disinterest. Instead, it seems like every chapter is a new reminder to us that we’re reading something quite unlike anything we’ve read before; and that’s both a delight and a pleasure.
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Attachments was my February pick for the 2014 TBR Pile reading challenge; this has been on my to-be-read list since it was first published. I was living in Omaha at the time and picked up a copy at one of the local Barnes & Nobles out of curiosity (amusingly enough, they had signed copies on display so I inadvertently have a signed first addition - go figure!). Reading it now was such a fun reminder of what I loved about that city, especially how nice the people are. The characters even made a few stops to familiar settings, which was a fun bit of extra nostalgia.