Way back in 1999, internet access and email was still a curious thing for some, and its role in the workplace was not yet secure in all organizations. In Attachments, the debut novel from author Rainbow Rowell, two characters employed by a newspaper are pushing the limits of appropriate email use, and the consequences are as unexpected as can be.
Since the powers that be at The Courier are concerned about how their employees may use or abuse their online privileges, they hire an “Internet security officer” whose main in-office task is to read the email exchanges that get red-flagged by the system. Lincoln is that employee, and even though he feels a slight level of creepiness in his job, he goes about his work, sending polite warnings to the offenders about inappropriate language use or email content when their messages end up in his flagged file.
Until he doesn’t.
It starts out innocently enough, for the email exchanges between Beth and Jennifer are obviously in no way detrimental to the company or offensive as a whole. They’re simply friends who send messages during their downtime, which as a movie reviewer and a copy editor, appears to happen every now and then. By the time Lincoln realizes that he has failed to send either of them a warning, several messages have passed, and he makes the decision to just let it go. By this point, though, Lincoln has become involved in their stories– the personal trials they’ve emailed about and their humorous tones have drawn him in.
Yes, it sounds truly creepy in that simple summary, but somehow Rowell manages to portray it in an innocent enough light that brought about more empathy for Lincoln’s character than disdain for me. His late working hours keep him mostly isolated in the workplace, and his stunted personal and emotional life outside of work put him in a position for worthy of some compassion. His natural demeanor comes off as hugely likable, even though his reality leaves him mostly disconnected from others socially.
As the story develops, we learn more about Lincoln, his family, and his past through a traditional third-person narrative, and in alternating chapters, we come to know Beth and Jennifer better through their continuing email exchanges, which we are given access to right alongside Lincoln. We come to see them as he does– friends who can laugh and share together in a comfortable manner that Lincoln can only dream of.
What started out as a lighthearted and fun novel greatly consisting of email exchanges between two funny friends, soon turned more serious, giving attention to the ways in which people can be drawn together. Friendship, complex familial relationships, and personal struggles to let go of past pains in order to move forward in life are thematically explored here, in a way that provokes laughter as well as solemn thoughts.
In Attachments, the paths that characters take toward each other are very much atypical, but in its capacity as a “love story,” it held high appeal for me for the ever present wit and the development of compassion for the characters themselves.
Dawn has vague memories of a couple college years lived in the pre-Internet era, but can’t imagine living completely offline anymore. The center of her online world is her blog, my thoughts exactly.