It’s the tail end of 1999. Lincoln works tech support for a newspaper that has only just allowed its staff access to the Internet. The company is super-duper paranoid about productivity, so they've hired Lincoln to monitor everyone’s e-mail accounts and make sure they stay on task. He’s supposed to send official warnings whenever people forward jokes or talk about personal matters on company time.
It’s a crap job and he knows it, but he does look forward to the ongoing e-mail exchange between Jennifer and Beth, two best friends who share everything about their lives. By the time he realizes he should’ve sent them a reprimand instead of, like, cyber-stalking them, he’s become fond of them both--especially Beth, upon whom he’s developed something awfully like a crush.
So, yeah. Squicky.
But if you can ignore the squickiness, ATTACHMENTS is wonderful. Seriously. I shit you not.
Rainbow Rowell has such a talent for developing characters who brim with hopes and foibles. These folks worry about the sorts of things you do worry about: whether they want kids; how relationships begin and end; the proper way to watch movies; the enduring power and pain of first love; that awkward thing where you have to wear a strapless gown at your sister’s wedding, thus exposing your upper arms and unsightly back fat to the world. Their narratives are packed with trivialities that are really anything but. The many small details of their lives fuse together to form a powerful portrait of emotional truth.
The novel is part epistolary, part third person narration. We get Beth and Jennifer’s stories in their own words, minus the in-between bits they obviously told one another in person; an immersive approach that limns the characters beautifully. Their banter is pure gold, and the instances where they misunderstand or offend one another are all the more poignant because they’re the sorts of things that happen to anyone engaged in a rapid-fire correspondence. And whoever missteps immediately apologizes in a sincere, organic way that acknowledges and ameliorates the problem.
They seem as much our friends as each other's.
It’s easy to see why Lincoln, whose story comes to us in the third person, feels such affection for the pair. His response to the stories Beth and Jennifer tell makes a nice backdrop for his own story, which is sad and lonely and awkward, but not entirely hopeless. Beth and Jennifer give Lincoln a reason to grow; to work through some of his problems; to start wishing for things on his own account instead of just drifting.
Of course, that doesn’t even sort of excuse how he eavesdrops on their most intimate confessions. Neither does the fact that Beth, the object of his affections, engages in some equally squicky tactics of her own when she develops a crush on him in return. (Needless to say, she has no idea her Cute Guy is reading her e-mails.) Rowell does try to take some of the squick out of the equation by having both Lincoln and Beth reflect on the inherent wrongness of what they’re doing, but... yeah. It doesn’t entirely fly.
Which is to say, it wouldn’t fly in real life. Sometimes, I want my fiction to play fair; sometimes, I just want it to be interesting, even if it’s not entirely on the up-and-up. That was very much the case here. I’m willing to allow both Lincoln and Beth to engage in as many squicky antics as they please because they do feel bad about the situation, and their emotional truths are so true, and they are perfect for each other.
And because they’re fictional. Don’t you real people be trying stuff like this; I’ll have no choice but to condemn you.
In the end, though, I did put my reservations about the premise aside. I fell in love with the book, and I cried an awful lot when certain events came to pass.
I just can't seem to keep my eyes dry when I read Rainbow Rowell. And I'm okay with that.
While I always advocate your local library as the absolute best source for books, I recognize this may not be an option for everyone where every book is concerned. If you're in search of another way to read ATTACHMENTS, you can try:
- Kobo (e-book; for purchase; coupons don't work)
- The Book Depository (paperback; for purchase; free shipping worldwide)
- Amazon (paperback & Kindle; for purchase)
- Audible (audio; for purchase or via one-month free trial, along with a second freebie)
I receive a small percentage of the purchase price if you buy the book through one of the links above.