Monday, March 19, 2012

Attachments (Rainbow Rowell)

Because of its genre's standard set pieces, some romance novels utilize different conceits to stand out from the pack. With its Sleepless in Seattle-reminiscent and partly epistolary love story, Attachments makes an effort to be memorable both in structure and in content, asking the readers to cheer for characters who are struck by 'love before first sight.'

Attachments is the story of Lincoln the IT guy who, during the early years of the internet has been hired by the local paper to read and flag emails sent through the company system. This is how he gets to know Beth, The Courier's resident movie critic, who can't get enough of emailing her friend Jennifer about the details of her personal life. As the two women email back and forth, Lincoln finds himself becoming more and more attracted to Beth.

True, what he does sounds awfully stalker-ish on paper. But what I admire about Attachments is how Ms Rowell turns him into a sympathetic character -- the reluctance to do his job evident on each page; in fact, reluctant to do much of anything at all, after a devastating break-up. That particular break-up is one of the highlights of this book, written in a poetic punch-in-the-gut kind of way. Thanks to that, Lincoln easily slides into the sweet spot of any romance protagonist: handsome enough to want as a lead, flawed enough to be within reach.

The novel itself lives within the early stages of most love stories. It thrives in that crushing-on-the-guy-at-the-water-cooler moment, the creative interpretation people do when they begin to attribute certain characteristics to their prospective loves, the awkward admiration at a distance. It's why the voyeuristic element works here. Lincoln, after keeping everything in his life at arms' length, is making slow but steady attempts to build himself anew. Situating the story on the cusp of the millennium also helps the plot as it's framed by the delicious anticipation of a new age and the dread that everything might come crashing down.

[Just an aside. The book is not particularly religious; in fact it has its share of slight profanity and taking of the Lord's name in vain, if you want to get technical. Despite that, I still admired one character's honesty about praying: 'I pray for everyone we care about. Plus, I like to pray for things that seem possible (p191).' It was an unexpected declaration of faith that to me seemed liked it didn't have an agenda or was meant to to be didactic. That, and the mention of two Catholic weddings didn't hurt either.]

There are no real highs and lows in this story but I don't think it needs it. Attachments is less about the thrill of will they-won't they and more about the journey to get yourself back on your feet and reconnecting with others. It's heartfelt, unpretentious, and satisfyingly patient.

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