Attachments is the debut novel that kicked off a cult following for author Rainbow Rowell. It’s pretty simple love story with a very rom-commy meet-cute, but Rowell’s sarcastic humor and genuine human insight keep it miles away from the saccharine Nicholas Sparks bullshit it gets shelved with. Aside from Rowell’s writing talent, two things about this story make it stand out: the time in which it is set, and the mechanism of storytelling.
The time in which it is set: The action mostly unfolds in an IT department in the second half of 1999 and beginning of 2000. Remember Y2k? Just seeing that phrase in print is enough to give me a chuckle, but to read a whole straight-faced story about the preparations is like a goofy time travel experience. It’s a little bit like finding a diary from middle school – you’re charmed by the nostalgia, but also embarrassed about how painfully naive you were. The mechanism of storytelling: Our characters work at a newspaper that has only recently invested in internet access (!!!) for its newsroom staff, and management is paranoid that now everyone’s going to do nothing but cruise AltaVista all day (lolololol). They invest in filtering software that will catch emails with prohibited words or phrases, but they need a person to read the flagged email to determine whether a policy was actually violated. It’s our hero’s job to read that email. Our heroine, a movie critic for the paper, doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the stupid fucking filter, and her emails – both personal and professional – are constantly picked up. The IT guy falls in love with the critic by reading her emails. The story is told through narration of the IT guy’s lived experience, which means getting to know the critic as he does – by reading her email.
The email is a clever trick on Rowell’s part, in part because the conversational tone makes the book a fast and funny read, and in part because it makes the characters immediately real and relatable. Who among us hasn’t sent personal email from our work accounts? Those of us who are lucky to have had a close friend at work will recognize themselves in these emails. I read this whole book in one sitting on a weekend afternoon, and it was like hanging out with my bestie all day, I recognized so much of us in these characters.
A lot of others feel the same connection to Rowell’s characters. Check out all this amazing fan art! Do yourself a favor, and spend a day in Rowell’s sweet, silly, satisfying world. Five stars.