I love to snoop but I also have an equally strong fear of being snooped. The result is my real-life snooping is kept to the bare-minimum and only when it’s mom-approved. As in, if my parents haven’t heard from my sister in a few days they’ll ask me to log on to her Facebook and make sure she’s alive (we may have a strange family dynamic).
Because of my need to snoop but equally strong notion that “snooping is bad and the sort of action that destroys trust in relationships”, there’s a special place in my heart for epistolary novels. I receive my snoop-fix without risking alienating friends and family (or getting arrested… can you get arrested for snooping?).
Most epistolary novels read like a dusty stash of letters you found while exploring some old English manor you are Airbnb-ing for the summer. You don’t feel guilty reading them because they’re about the lives and loves of individuals from a different time period… and it helps that they’re fictional.
Attachments, Rainbow Rowell’s first novel, explores what happens when the letters (or in this case emails) you’re reading weren’t written by a bunch of British people in the 1800s, but rather by living, breathing humans in the same office space in Nebraska.
Lincoln is a somewhat lost “internet security specialist” whose main job is to read all the “flagged” emails from the staff of The Courier, an Omaha newspaper kicking and screaming its way into the 21st century. It’s a pretty mindless job, but Lincoln’s nights are brightened by the constantly flagged email conversations between Jennifer and Beth. Lincoln naturally feels pangs of guilt every time he reads Beth and Jennifer’s flagged conversations and doesn’t send them a polite reminder about company policy, but the situation becomes more complicated when he begins to develop feelings for Beth.
The main questions permeating Attachments is how the hell is Lincoln going to:
(a) Meet Beth;
(b) Tell her about the company-approved (and paid) email snooping; and
(c) Convince her he’s a cool dude despite (b).
Of course there’s a lot more going on in Attachments: Lincoln, Beth and Jennifer all have individual lives beyond The Courier (boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, husbands, moms, nagging sisters, movie theater’s being torn down!). But the question of how Lincoln will confess (if he ever does) is the main conflict in the novel. I found the idea of meshing together a epistolary novel with a more traditional storytelling style interesting and having both the reader and Lincoln snoop on Beth and Jennifer’s conversations was a brilliant concept.
Unfortunately for Attachments, this concept is pretty much the only thing going for it.
Beth and Jennifer’s conversations are great and I can only imagine how much fun it was for Rowell to make sure there was always something flag-worthy in their conversations (tiger penises come up at one point). Lincoln’s guilt over his job works and his character growth throughout the novel is incredibly natural. Lincoln starts out slightly broken and small, and ends up with his own apartment and in control of his life.
The one part that didn’t work out (and that unfortunately makes up the bulk of the story) were the romantic elements surrounding Lincoln, both in terms of the flashbacks about his ex-girlfriend Sam and the hemming-and-hawing over whether he would ever meet Beth and tell her about the snooping. There’s something over-the-top about Sam and Lincoln’s relationships that wasn’t present in the main relationship in Rowell’s other novel Eleanor & Park. Eleanor and Park’s relationship is sweet and comfortable, Sam and Lincoln’s is annoyingly melodramatic and unbelievable.
Furthermore, as a snooper with trust-issues I just can’t see how Lincoln might even for a moment believe that he can make things work out with Beth. I can’t imagine beginning a relationship with someone who knows everything about me, while I know nothing about them; it’s simply too unbalanced from an information perspective. It’s already difficult enough holding a conversation with someone you Facebook- or LinkedIn-stalked, trying to make sure you don’t slip up and confess, so it would be exponentially more difficult to have one with a dude whose emails you’ve been reading for months.
Loads of books require some willing suspension of disbelief, but the amount necessary for Beth & Lincoln’s will-they-won’t-they relationship in Attachments was (like the meme) “too damn high!” This resulted in so much eye rolling and Lincoln’s flashbacks about Sam (particularly the cloyingly deep talks between them) didn’t help.
To me Attachments is the sort of book that I would steer people away from if they’ve never read Rainbow Rowell, since it’s not at all representative of her storytelling abilities. For the already established Rowell fan, however, it’s an interesting look at an author’s first novel and it is exciting to see that, in much the same way Lincoln evolved between the beginning and end of Attachments, Rowell’s ability as a writer also developed between Attachments and Eleanor & Park.