Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. Plume, 2012. 9780452297548. 336pp.
Gene: Why did we pick this book?
Sarah: One of the Book Wows I’m going to post about in a few weeks — Dear Fahrenheit 451 — recommended it as a good romance.
G: Oh, right. That was after trying to read a different book I picked and neither of us liked it. We were both like, WTF is up with this?
S: [mentions title, but Gene and I are not revealing it because we know folks who like the book in question, though it’s not a book for us]
G: Unrelated, but can I admit I shit-talked a book by a publisher whose books I usually like to an author whose books I love, and she admitted she didn’t like the book in question, either. So satisfying.
S: I got to talk to some of the school librarians I work with in a non-school setting and they were able to tell me which of the Battle of the Books books they hate. It was great.
G: Have you read Rainbow Rowell’s books before?
G: I loved Eleanor & Park. It’s one of my top 10 YA books of all time. It’s on my shelf at home, my entire family loved it. It’s so good.
This was her first novel, and an adult novel, apparently.
S: It’s set in 1999, which is important.
G: I was pitching it to my 15-year-old daughter, and I realized why it’s not a YA book. “It’s set in a newspaper office in 1999!” Her eyes rolled back into her head. (She is excited by Rainbow Rowell’s current run on the Runaways comics for Marvel. In fact the first collection was just published.)
S: So yeah, a newspaper, 1999. The office just got computers because their publisher is like, “Everyone is just going to be screwing off. They’ll look like they’re working but they won’t be working.” So they hire a few people in the tech department, and one of them is this guy who’s been hired to make sure people aren’t screwing off on work time.
G: Right, there’s some primitive email filter that kicks out messages based on keywords to a folder, and his job is to take care of tech problems at night, when almost no one is working, and to read those emails so that he can send warnings to people about their content.
S: “Don’t talk about personal things on the job.” or “Don’t look at gambling websites.” or “Don’t make jokes like that or look at porn.” And they talk about the first time they set up this software, when one of the default keywords was “classified” because they didn’t want people selling company secrets, but they had a whole department called Classifieds so that was idiotic.
G: Great keyword searching detail! I was like, Oh! I hadn’t realized Rowell worked at a newspaper at about that time — this must have been her world.
S: So for the guy that’s hired, Lincoln, this is a very shitty job for him. He works at night, he doesn’t get to see anyone, he’s living with his mom, he’s about 28.
G: He’s been in school for a long time, has a lot of degrees.
S: He’s super overqualified. But it’s good money, and he knows anything about computers so he’s overqualified.
G: His sister thinks he’s crazy for hating the job because he can sit there and do anything he wants.
S: And his boss is like, “Don’t worry about it. You want something to do, bring something to do.”
G: Learn a foreign language, or whatever. I can’t remember exactly what he says.
S: Which is all a setup for him starting to read some emails…
G: Oh, and he’s heartbroken over his high school sweetheart, Sam.
G: And we didn’t know what happened for most of the book (though you do find out). He loved her so much. She kinda picked him.
S: And he felt like she was the only person who liked him or could like him and the fact that he lost her just destroyed him and he still has no idea how to cope.
G: Throughout the book he has flashbacks. And those are painful, because it’s obvious stuff is going on in her head that’s not obvious to him because he loves her so much. It’s agony.
S: So good. [Sarah talks about a key scene late in the book that would spoil it.]
[We both curse out a character like we’re sailors, which we know is true as Gene’s maternal grandfather was a merchant marine. (Though he was polite.) And then we get reasonable again.]
Anyway, Lincoln starts reading these emails. And he’s going to send a warning to these two women who are constantly writing back and forth.
G: One is a movie reviewer, the other is a copy editor or a paster, and they’re great friends. At one point there’s a description of pasting copy onto waxed paper.
S: Old tech!
But Lincoln doesn’t send them a warning, and it snowballs because he’s curious about what they’re talking about the next night, and the next. He knows this is wrong and he feels like a shit about it…
G: He’s not just allowed to read any email he wants to, though, it’s his job. But…he never reads anything the filter doesn’t flag. And it’s always obvious what the filter flagged in the conversations between these women.
S: Which has to be obvious, because Rowell had to establish Lincoln is ethical and that he knows this is creepy, otherwise this book wouldn’t have worked. But instead of being a villain he’s a guy with a shitty job trying to move on.
G: So he starts reading these emails, in which these friends are so funny and deep and honest with each other — and they’re kind of written almost like text messages — the movie reviewer is smart and funny and makes all the right pop culture jokes.
G: She references superheroes, bad movies. They both have relationship problems. The copy editor, Jennifer, has a husband, and they’re trying to decide whether or not to have a kid. And Beth the movie reviewer has a boyfriend, Chris, who is a rock star (local, heavy metal) who is seriously good looking but won’t commit.
S: Super immature.
G: Even at the end of the book, it was easy for me to forgive him, too. Everyone comes off okay in the end somehow.
But Lincoln is reading these emails and he’s obviously falling for Beth, it becomes clear.
S: He’s never even seen her. He doesn’t want to see her, because that would be weird.
G: Lincoln at one point goes to one of Chris’ band’s concerts, maybe to run into her, but he’s with a douchey friend from high school…
S: Such a jerk.
G: …but I loved him at the end of the book, too. And Lincoln plays D&D with a group he’s known for a long time. And the woman in the group is married to one of the guys in the group — Lincoln kind of had a thing for her for a minute once in college.
S: And she can see what’s going on with him and wants him to do well.
G: Lincoln’s sister wants him to do well, too, but doesn’t know him really. She wants him to move out of the house because: the mom.
S: His mom!
G: She’s just holding on to Lincoln because he’s her life. She can’t understand why he’d leave with her cooking for him.
And then the most charming thing, the older woman who stocks the vending machines at the newspaper, Lincoln starts having dinner with her, sharing his mom’s food with her. She tells him about the love of her life, and they become great friends.
Throughout the book Lincoln can’t tell anyone about his feelings for Beth because it would be so weird.
S: He knows it would be creepy.
G: I don’t know where this booktalk ends.
S: I know! The book a series of perfect moments and wonderful phrasing and it felt really real.
G: It’s like if Elmore Leonard wrote a romantic comedy, because the dialogue sounds perfect. It’s so damn good. These feel like real conversations. And Rowell gives the characters just the right push, setting it all in motion.
S: Can you fall in love with someone without ever seeing them? It’s Cyrano de Bergerac, kinda.
G: And if you do, will the person you love ever accept your love? Or should you just forget about it?
S: It’s really handy she’s a movie reviewer.
G: It is!