Review: Attachments

Many a reader (especially YA readers) have kept up with Rainbow Rowell’s fiction releases. I was not one of those readers. I have, however, finally picked up a book of Rowell’s, and am excited to share with you my thoughts on her adult romance novel, Attachments.

About the book: Lincoln, the funny, attachmentsoverly-educated awkward guy who never quite figured out what to do after graduation, has landed an easy systems security job at a newspaper. The hours are terrible, he often has little or nothing to occupy his time during his shift, and the work he is tasked with completing is morally suspect and fills him with guilt. He wanted to use his free time at this job trying to find a better one, but instead finds himself swept up in reading Beth’s and Jennifer’s personal e-mail exchanges. He should send them a warning about misuse of company property and time, as his job requires, but he’d rather read their words day after day, laugh at their jokes, sympathize with their problems, and wonder quietly which of the nameless faces in the building belong to the women he’s become fascinated with. He’s never been lucky in love, and always seems to say or do the wrong things around women he finds attractive; he spends his days wondering how to improve this part of his life even more often than wondering what to do about his career, and when he should stop letting his mother insist on taking care of him. Beth and Jennifer have difficulties of their own, but everything starts to change when Lincoln reads that one of them has a crush on the cute, mysterious systems security guy. Wracked with guilt for knowing too much about their personal lives, though, Lincoln views the revelation as a road block and becomes even more uncertain about his life than ever. When will things fall into place? How can he fix something that went wrong before it even started?

“Love. Purpose. Those are the things that you can’t plan for. Those are the things that just happen. And what if they don’t happen? Do you spend your whole life pining for them? Waiting to be happy?”

The layout of this book is structurally intriguing. Although the story uses a third-person narration, it follows Lincoln closely and allows the reader a full inspection of his life, including his present thoughts, past memories, and future plans. However, Lincoln is the only character the narrator watches, and the reader sees Attachments‘ other main characters, Beth and Jennifer, through the filter of Lincoln’s perspective. In fact, the only times we see them at all are in the e-mails that Lincoln peruses and the instances when he speculates whether the women he sees in the office are the two women from the e-mails, physically present in his life. With this in mind, the reader must admit that Rowell does an excellent job of characterizing the people that the reader can only see through Lincoln. The fact that all of the characters are interesting for their own reasons can be attributed only to Rowell’s superb writing; so much of the two women’s personalities comes through the format of their e-mails that fills half of this novel. This romance novel will not only tug at emotions, but at minds that delight in unique writing styles; for readers who enjoy novels that deal with letters or other mixed-media avenues, Attachments is a great choice.

Beyond the structure of the novel, the writing is also to be noted. No part of this book is cheesy or trite; it’s characters feel real, their lives immersive, and the romance melds seamlessly into the chaos of Lincoln’s thoughts and emotions. Love has not taken over Lincoln’s life–rather it is one among a dozen issues that Lincoln is trying to juggle, and there are certainly times when one or more of the items in the air drop through his hands. He’s not perfect, and he doesn’t pretend to be. Love is not the panacea that many romance novels seem to imply, and Lincoln knows it. He’s been crushed by love before.

” ‘These things end,’ she said. ‘They always end. Nobody marries their first love. First love is just that. First. It’s implied that something else will follow.’ “

The characters of this story are also uniquely wonderful. I’ve never read a character like Lincoln–there were so many aspects of his life that would give me pause if I were to discover them in a real person, but somehow seeing into his thoughts and reading about his struggles made it easier to accept that he was a 28 year-old man living with his mother and spending his weekends with his only friends playing Dungeons and Dragons. He was naive and a  little pathetic in his first relationship, and seems to be hiding from making choices in life by going back to school for dozens of degrees instead of stepping out into the world. When Attachments began, Lincoln had very little agency–things happened to him, but he seemed capable of doing very little to make things happen. And yet, his intelligence, his humor, and his determination to keep going when things get rough keep the reader believing that there’s more to Lincoln than first meets the eye, and waiting for him to break through his fear and reach his full potential. He’s the underdog, treading water until that one moment he can burst through everything that’s holding him back.

“Wasn’t hitting bottom the thing you had to do to knock some sense into yourself? Wasn’t hitting bottom the thing that showed you which way was up?”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I expected to feel more tension and excitement in this book, but it wasn’t until the final 50 pages or so that I became fully invested in the outcome of Lincoln’s story. Still, once I’d flipped to the first page, I could hardly put Attachments down. Even before the plot reeled me in, the characters held my interest and perpetually left me needing one more chapter until suddenly all of the chapters were gone. I did think it was a little odd that not one of those emails Lincoln read seemed to have any attachments, though. The title of the novel still made sense, but I kept imagining that some significant document or photograph would be attached to one of those emails to tie it all together.

Further recommendations:

  1. Colleen Hoover’s It Ends With Us is a new romance novel that, like Attachments, focuses more on uniquely compelling characters than stereotypical love triangles and other typical romance tropes. This one also deals with difficult topics like abuse and homelessness, and despite its romantic elements, still reminds the reader that love isn’t the only factor in attaining one’s happily ever after. You can find my complete review of this book here.
  2. If you like your romances with a little more of a plot-y backstory, pick up one of Sara Gruen’s novels. At the Water’s Edge is a romance with a little historical fiction about the hunt for the Loch Ness monster mixed in, including a dangerous trip to Scotland, a lost inheritance, and a fabulous party gone horribly wrong. You can find my complete review of this book here.

What’s next: I’m currently reading Sarah J. Maas’s YA fantasy novel, A Court of Mist and Fury. I liked the first book in this series, A Court of Thorns and Roses, but I’ve been led to believe that this second volume is even better. Stay tuned for that verdict.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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