Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Review: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Before we go any further, let's get this out in the open: ATTACHMENTS has a squicky premise.

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:

I receive a small percentage of the purchase price if you buy the book through one of the links above.


  1. I love this review <3 I couldn't completely get over the premise and all that it implied, but I will say I never thought I could possibly enjoy a book with a set-up like this as much as I did this one. She's a seriously amazing writer.

    1. I can't wait for her next book! She's fast becoming my favourite contemporary/general fiction writer.

  2. I couldn't at all get over this premise, and I didn't enjoy Attachments, which is why I waited so long to read Eleanor and Park. BUT I loved Eleanor and Park more than I love most books in my life, and I anticipate a similar reaction to Fangirl. I am not holding Attachments against Rainbow Rowell.

    1. FANGIRL is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! I think I'm in the minority here, but I loved it much more than ELEANOR & PARK, which I loved an awful lot.

  3. I heard about this book well before everyone freaked out about Eleanor & Park. I didn't think I would like it at all, but after reading her other two books I am excited to get to this one. :)

    1. As long as you can manage to work with the creepy factor, it's fantastic.

  4. I always recommend this book with the caveat "This book is creepy... but wonderful?" Since it's fiction, and it's never presented as a RIGHT thing or perfectly okay thing to do, I could ignore the premise. It's also the book that made me fall in love with Rainbow Rowell, so I can't be too mad at it. I cannot wait to read Landline!!

    1. "Creepy... but wonderful?" is such a great way to describe it.

      That reminds me, I should see if my library has ordered LANDLINE yet. If so, I want to be nice and high up on the requests list!