“Do you believe in love at first sight?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “Do you believe in love before that?”
These two lines sum up the question at the heart of Attachments, the debut novel by Rainbow Rowell. It’s set in 1999 at a Midwestern newspaper in the midst of the Y2K madness. Co-workers Beth and Jennifer spend good portions of their day sending each other messages about very personal details of their lives despite knowing that their email is being monitored. The person monitoring their email is Lincoln, and he doesn’t have the heart to send them a warning.
You see, through their messages, Lincoln has come to enjoy Beth and Jennifer’s interactions immensely. Before he realizes it, he has fallen for Beth but can’t imagine how he would ever introduce himself. Quite a dilemma, isn’t it?
I discovered Attachments after seeing it chosen for the Barnes & Noble Summer 2011 Discover Great New Writers program and the subject matter really resonated with me. Why, you may ask? Well, I’m a veteran of falling for someone online. The most important relationships I’ve had began by reading someone’s words and being drawn to them and the person behind those words. When you love words and feel comfortable using them, I think it’s natural to fall for someone via the written word. If you’ve ever written or received a love letter, you know how powerful it can be to share intense emotions through language. You keep those letters and re-read them over and over and the feelings that get stirred up don’t diminish with each reading. They grow.
If you’re getting to know someone online, it’s easy to put your best foot forward, as it were. You can take time to say exactly what you want to say. There is no stuttering or fumbling over words. You aren’t distracted by the physical presence of the person with whom you’re talking. All you have are your words.
Can this be problematic? Certainly. For example, I know that I can come across much more self-assured online than I normally do in real life. This doesn’t mean that I’m lying about who I am. It just means that I’m presenting my best self, who I am internally, and who I want to be more of, externally.
I must confess that I don’t read much fiction anymore. I don’t know exactly why or when this happened but if you looked at my bookshelves, you’d find mainly nonfiction: biographies, how-to books, philosophy, etc. So, for a book of fiction to grab me, it must be something special.
The subject matter of Attachments may have lured me in, but it was (big surprise), the words that kept me reading. Rainbow Rowell fills her novel with pop culture references to songs, movies and my personal favorite, “Dungeons and Dragons”. (I was a devoted D&D geek in the mid-to-late 1980s). But the quality that most impresses me is her dialogue. Rowell’s dialogue is crisp and punchy, much like the best movie or television dialogue you’ve ever heard.
So I highly recommend Attachments to anyone who loves snappy dialogue and a captivating and unconventional love story. Despite the fact that my previous forays into online love haven’t led to “happily ever after”, I’m not discouraged. To answer the questions that began this post, I not only believe in love at first sight. I believe in love at first type.