By Rainbow Rowell
Available now from Plume (Penguin Random House)
Read my review of Fangirl
I enjoyed both of Rainbow Rowell's new novels, ELEANOR & PARK and FANGIRL. Thus, I was excited to go back and read her first novel, ATTACHMENTS.
It's 1999, and everyone's worried about Y2K. Lincoln is in IT at a newspaper, reading the email messages that get caught in the filter. That's when he becomes aware of Beth and Jennifer, whose long email exchanges are often flagged. He keeps reading their email, even though he knows it is an invasion of privacy. At the same time, he begins coming out of his shell, finding new friends and independence. He's been stuck in a rut, living with his mom and working at a job he hates and not getting out except to play D&D.
Setting ATTACHMENTS in '99 gives Rainbow Rowell one big advantage: every bit of pop culture the characters reference is still well-known and respected. There's no obscure references, no ephemeral and forgotten fads. It also means that the technology involved is still pretty new to people. Email is easy of course, but print journalism is still going strong. Employees slacking off on the Internet is new. Weirdly, no one ever seems frustrated by dial-up.
The romance didn't entirely work for me. I kept waiting for Beth and Lincoln to meet. I liked reading about their individual journeys, but I was in it for the attachment. The real love story only takes up the last 10% of the book. At that point it's kind of awkward because of the privacy invasion. Rowell does her best to mitigate it, but I still found it creepy, even though I really liked Lincoln.
What did work very well were all the depictions of different friendships. Friendships between women, men, both. Work friendships, college friendships, friendships that lasted since high school. The friendship between Beth and Jennifer is particularly great, of course, but I also really liked Lincoln's new friendship with an older coworker.
Rowell's publishers are pushing ATTACHMENTS more now that ELEANOR & PARK and FANGIRL are hits. It's a good move, because ATTACHMENTS has the same strong character work. It also shares a theme of anxiety with FANGIRL. It's a strong debut, and it's easy to see how Rowell has grown. It also builds anticipation for her upcoming adult novel, LANDLINES.