By Brittany Redden, Contributor
Oh, the forbidden office romance. So exciting. So taboo. We’ve seen it before: Girl catches Boy’s eye from across a crowded room (in this case, from across a room of mundane gray cubicles), Boy holds Girl’s gaze for just a second too long, confirming the mutual attraction. Next comes the attempt at normalcy when Boy sees Girl in the office that only makes the flame burn brighter. Secret rendezvous turn into a love affair where what’s caught in the middle isn’t a wife or husband, but the workplace that brought them together. Villainous co-workers and unsavory circumstances try to rip Boy and Girl apart, but in the end, true love trumps all.
This “been there, done that” storyline is not Rainbow Rowell’s “Attachments.” Rowell’s first novel is one with many a paradox, as it is pithy yet deep, relatable yet all too coincidental. But then again, so are the characters, which are true to life in that their contradictions fuel their convictions.
“Attachments” takes place in 1999 in a Midwestern city. Movie reviewer Beth, and copy editor Jennifer of The Courier spend much of their days in the office exchanging soapy emails about Beth’s hard-knock love life, Jennifer’s baby-crazed husband, or just how much Beth loves October (Jennifer: “You’re a nut.” Beth: “A hazelnut. A filbert”).
With the advent of inter-office email, enter Lincoln, a computer nerd trapped in a Brawny paper towel man’s body whose job is to monitor the emails of the likes of Beth and Jennifer for office inappropriateness.
Outside of the office, 28-year-old Beth’s college boyfriend, Chris, (a sexy musician, no less) has her wrapped around his guitar pick, and though he can make her swoon one day, he can just as easily make her cry the next. However, she’s cut from the cloth of a true optimistic (or perhaps naïveté). She is always looking for the silver lining and when she can’t seem to find that, she looks for humor.
Jennifer is married to Mitch, a burly farm boy, and the only problem in their marriage is that he wants kids yesterday and she’s unsure she wants them at all. All the while, Lincoln can’t seem to get over his high school first love, Sam, who emotionally damaged him from the first moment she looked his way. When he’s not lurking in the inboxes of The Courier staff, he plays Dungeons and Dragons with college pals and eats his mother’s (whom he recently moved back in with) old-fashioned cooking.
What starts as Lincoln innocently doing his job turns into an addiction to the girls’ witty heart-to-hearts about their family and love lives, which Lincoln is envious of. He wrestles with his conscience as he begins to fall for Beth, whom he’s never met but tries desperately to learn more about, from her moody boyfriend to her eye for a cute new guy around the office. But what do you know; Beth’s “McG” (My Cute Guy) is actually Lincoln, who she spotted “the first time walking down the hallway. And then I spotted him at the drinking fountain—and I thought to myself, ‘Now there’s a tall drink of water… getting a drink of water.’ He has really nice brown hair and action-hero facial features.”
In a situation so complicated by ex-girlfriends, current boyfriends and overbearing mothers, you’re left leafing through the pages wondering if the two will ever actually meet, but knowing deep down that a book so slick and heartwarming could never end tragically.
“Attachments” isn’t just a fun read for a rainy day or delayed flight. The girls’ emails bring to light ideas that swarm around most everyone’s head at some point: despite all the romantic hubbub, are we living “a life without articles?” No more “the” perfect guy, but rather “a” perfect guy? And more pressingly, is this a life without true love? Rowell weaves these questions into the brains of her characters and allows them to work through their affairs realistically, with humor and hope.
Rowell’s story is a sweet one that perpetuates everyone’s longing for a meet-cute like in the movies. But it’s also painfully evident that Lincoln, the character that every female reader will inevitably fall madly in love with, is indeed a fictional one and penned by a woman.
Rowell is a graduate of the University of Nebraska Lincoln and now works at the Omaha World-Herald, where she was hired as its youngest and first female columnist. She shrewdly crafts Beth and Jennifer’s emails with humor and sass and full of one-liners (“Well, that’s a cucumber… cool I mean.”). But her wit doesn’t outdo her sensitivity, as her story of star-crossed lovers develops and audiences are transported to a time unspoiled by texting and full of honest-to-goodness passion—the 90s.
Rowell’s “Attachments” is so captivating you can almost hear Beth ask, “Lincoln, do you believe in love at first sight?” You’ll be left with your heart aching as he beckons, “I don’t know, do you believe in love before that?”