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Otherwise Engaged: A Novel

Otherwise Engaged: A Novel

4.5 26
by Suzanne Finnamore

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Otherwise Engaged is Suzanne Finnamore's wickedly funny account of an intelligent, rational woman's transformation into the harpy of anxieties that is the bride-to-be.

When Michael pops the question, Eve is deliriously happy. She tells grocery clerks. She subscribes to bridal magazines. She delights in the rainbows that shower from the one-carat (okay,


Otherwise Engaged is Suzanne Finnamore's wickedly funny account of an intelligent, rational woman's transformation into the harpy of anxieties that is the bride-to-be.

When Michael pops the question, Eve is deliriously happy. She tells grocery clerks. She subscribes to bridal magazines. She delights in the rainbows that shower from the one-carat (okay, .81-carat) ring on her hand. For two days. As the cumulative stresses of ordering invitations, finding a dress, and organizing the Perfect Honeymoon fry Eve's nerves, the very real prospect of being with one man for the rest of her days reverberates through her consciousness like a Chinese gong. Suddenly the sight of Michael's discarded socks on the floor and his passing mentions of his former live-in French girlfriend incite doubt, argument, and public fainting.

Uproarious, insightful, tender, Otherwise Engaged dashes our soap-bubble fantasies in favor of a hilariously realistic walk to the alter.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Ginia Bellafante
It is comforting to read a book that looks at the real doubts women have when marriage comes after the breeziness of youth has subsided.
Time Magazine
R Rhodes
Eve's not as neurotic as Ally McBeal nor as weight-obsessed as Bridget Jones. She doesn't seem to have very many close female friends. But she's someone you can totally relate to, because in every group of friends, there is one woman like her. She is the woman who was obsessed about getting engaged, who pushed and pushed until it happened, and then yammered on and on about being engaged. Not necessarily the planning of a wedding — the flowers, the invites, the meal — but the feeling of actually being engaged. And this mindset, along with a bottle of Valium that has to last her from the beginning of her engagement until the big day, characterizes go-getter Eve in Otherwise Engaged by Suzanne Finnamore.

Most prospective brides will find themselves able to understand many of Eve's quirky behaviors that are symptomatic of engagement. The trip to Tiffany's to examine an overpriced, unrealistic ring that she wants but knows in her heart of hearts she will never get. The constant need to reassure herself that the engagement is real. The arguments over whether it's smart to save $50 and not have lined envelopes for the wedding invitation. And who can forget the future mother-in-law? Eve's happens to be a bit neurotic and requests that no rice be thrown at the wedding because she fears the birds will explode and then spread disease — to which Eve responds by asking if that will be her only request. "For now," the mother-in-law says.

But women who are single or already married need not shy away from this book. All women will find Otherwise Engaged to be a humorous, easy read that has "it-book" written all over the cover. Needless to say, there is a lot of dialogue in the book that will inevitably be dropped into casual conversation around the barbecue pit this summer. One of Eve's close work associates is leaving to find himself, and on his final day she experiences what her friend Jill calls a Grand Klong: "a sudden rush of shit to the heart." Huh?

"A Grand Klong is when you look in your rearview mirror and you see the police car," Jill says. "A Petit Klong is where you're talking about somebody and they arrive, but they have not heard their name." What a perfect way of summing up two precarious situations.

There are other pearls of wisdom from Jill, who does not appear that often in Otherwise Engaged but somehow ends up with all of the great lines. Consider her take on antidepressants: "Zoloft is a wizened old woman with a black velvet bag that closes with a golden cord and has stars and moons all over it. Her empty-headed daughter is Elavil, who always wears white and ballet slippers. Whose hair looks beautiful from a distance but is actually quite thin. Elavil powders her face with rice flour and is engaged to Prozac, a magician who performs for royalty in silver tights. They will never marry. Tragedy will avert it."

Finnamore's first novel doubles as an outlet for her vivid imagination and isn't to be taken seriously as a primer on engagement. You will laugh at Eve's therapy sessions with Reuben. You will be inspired by Eve's corporate prowess at the advertising agency she works for. You will be delighted by the occasional whimsical moments, like Eve's having her colleagues pound on a candy-filled piñata in the office. But serious prose this is not. You might be surprised by the author's light treatment of Eve's sick friend — or question the merits of including this in the book at all. And at times, you might even wonder why Finnamore goes off on tangents about Eve's parents and largely neglects her day-to-day interaction with her fiancé. But again, it's not serious prose, and higher expectations are better suited for other books. Otherwise Engaged is a light read that is perfect for a hot, lazy summer afternoon or for diversion during an anxious train ride whose only purpose is buying a bridal gown.


Sally Eckhoff
Great stuff, if only for a while. The tone of Finnamore's writing...mimics the bride's bad case of jangled nerves...
The New York Times Book Review
Deirdre Donahue
For laugh-out-loud humor, Otherwise Engaged takes the cake...This one is like a glass of really icy, good champagne.
USA Today
Kirkus Reviews
A chronicle of a bride's engagement ultimately becomes a kind of wedding favor.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage Contemporaries
Sold by:
Random House
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File size:
293 KB

Read an Excerpt

He did it. I said yes and checked my watch. 7:22 p.m.

I sneak a pen out of my purse and write the time down on the palm of my hand, in what I hope is a nonchalant fashion. I am excited and at the same time I feel there is a possibility of an inquiry.

He didn't kneel. It's unlikely I would marry someone who did. From then on, I would live in fear of Whitman's Samplers. Tandem bicycles. Someone who knelt would need me to give up my name and bake pies while his aging mother cried out in pain from the next room.

Exhilaration. Also something darker: a sense of triumph. It is primal, furtive; my ovaries cracking cheap champagne. I win. Those two words; that's exactly how I feel. Happy, but not in an I Knew It All Along way. Definitely in a Contestant Who Has Won in the Final Round Despite Major Setbacks way.

And the Harvard professors who say a woman is as likely to be married after thirty-five as to be abducted by terrorists? May they fall into open manholes, where hard-body lesbians with blowtorches await them.

I am thirty-six years of age.

I need to write it all down. Exactly what was said, exactly what happened.

It all began Sunday morning. I woke up and heard him padding around the kitchen of our San Francisco flat: making coffee, unfolding his New York Times. Sun dappled the crisp two-hundred-thread-count cotton sheets. Outside the bedroom window, two finches nuzzled on a branch. In the kitchen, Molly O'Neill was freeing kumquats from their humdrum lives. At that moment I decided it probably wasn't going to get any better than this. The free introductory trial period was over.

He brought in my coffee, murmuring the theme song from Goldfinger. "Goldfinger . . . he's the man, the man with the Midas touch . . . the spider's touch."

He was planning his day. It was going to be a day like any other. It would be free of confrontation, conflict, or commitment, anything that could remotely lead to a subpoena. Michael is what his therapist calls change averse. The survivor of a bitter divorce, which he refers to simply as The Unpleasantness.

The day he had planned was going to include me, but it was going to revolve around him. Just a nice Sunday is what he would have called it.

It was my task to set the earth spinning the other way.

I took his hand, and said, "You know what?" Pleasantly, as though I had some interesting good news to share with him.

"You need to decide about us. Now." He tensed, his eyes flitting around the room. A paperboy caught in the grip of a mad clown.

There ensued a period of silence. He stared past my right shoulder, transfixed by a point just outside the present. He had decided to go blank.

I cataloged events for him, since he was so bad with time.

"We've known each other three years. We've been living together six months."

I asserted that I wasn't going to be like Gabrielle, the hair model who lived with him for four years and got the Samsonite luggage.

"I love you," I said. "But I can't just stay in limbo."

What's wrong with limbo? I heard him thinking. Limbo is fantastic.

"Especially if we want to have children," I said.

His face went white. He had understood that one word, "children." Ten years ago his first wife, Grace, left him and moved to Vermont along with Michael's three year-old daughter, Phoebe. Every year, Michael cries on her birthday. Phoebe calls her stepfather Daddy, and Michael, Michael.

"I understand if you can't move forward," I said. Beat. Sip of coffee. Sad smile. "But I have to."

I added that if he didn't marry me, he would probably end up alone. A few meaningless and shallow affairs with a certain type.

"Users," I said. "Women who don't want a commitment."

His face, I thought, lit up.

"An old man in a rocking chair," I said. "Eating Dinty Moore beef stew out of cans."

This is what he eats when I am gone. This and corn. Michael turned forty-four last July. Together we are about a hundred.

"We're meant to be together," I said. "But if not you, I'll move on and find someone else."

I wondered how many women were lying that same lie at that exact moment. In truth he would have to blast me out with dynamite, just like Gabrielle. Holding on to the front doorjamb with the tips of my fingers and screaming. Hooking my feet around the wrought-iron banister.

He said he would think it over. The fact that he had to think it over made me want to cry and break things. I looked out the window. The birds were gone.

"I guess I always knew it would come to this," he pronounced, deadpan.

He slumped quietly out the door and I heard his motorcycle start up. I looked out the window as he drove away. He had his full-face Shoei helmet on. He looked like a large blue-headed beetle, moving away at high speed. The way he was going, one might think he would never return. But just like the little rubber ball attached to the toy paddle with a long elastic string and a single staple, he has to come back. All his things are here.

When he returned four hours later we both pretended it hadn't happened. I roasted a chicken; we ate it in front of 60 Minutes. I commented on how fine Ed Bradley looked. How tall and sleek, like a panther. Michael is five foot nine,  Caucasian. Serial dreams of being in the NBA.

The following day he left for an overnight business trip to Colorado. The timing was impeccable. One night to think things over, to imagine a world without a sun. That night he called me from his hotel in Denver, saying there was something he wanted to talk about when he got back. Code word: "Something."

"Have a safe trip home," I said. "Darling." I hung up and made reservations at the Lark Creek Inn in Marin. Chef Bradley Ogden, home of the eighteen-dollar appetizer. That night I sleep fitfully. I am what my mother used to call overexcited. I think about what if the plane crashes and he never gets to ask me. I will tell people he did, I decide.

I felt extremely focused.

The next day, Tuesday. He comes home around four in the afternoon. He actually runs to the kitchen, to find me.

He loves me, I am thinking. Also: Baby, you are going DOWN.

We embrace. His skin feels cool, as though he had flown home without the airplane. He has on a thick moss-green plaid flannel shirt which he has purchased in Santa Fe, probably in a Western store with a wooden Indian outside. It soothed him, buying that shirt. I can see that.

At six we dress for dinner in silence. I watch him. And when I see him pull his gray suit out of the armoire, I know. It's not his best suit, but it's my favorite. Single-breasted. With the suit, he puts on his black merino-wool sweater. Another clue. A simple shirt would've been one thing. Or a black knit tee. The black tee would say, I'm sporty but not serious. It would say, I know how to wear a tee shirt with a suit, I'm a good catch. Try and catch me. The merino sweater has a collar and three neat buttons. It says, I'm caught. And I'm taking it like a man.

I wear a black sheer-paneled skirt and a long knit jacket from my first trip to Paris. Black hose, black heels. I put on my earrings with my eyes still on him. I hook the wire through the hole, blind.

We drive across the Golden Gate Bridge without speaking. Black Saab, top down. I'm wearing a velvet hat and dark sunglasses. We are listening to the jazz station. This would make a good commercial, is what I'm thinking. Also I am wondering how I am going to live if he doesn't ask. We would have to break up immediately, tonight. This instant. My mind flips back and forth, a fish on the deck.

We arrive and valets grab the keys from his hand, open doors. Once inside, we are quickly seated. Time is speeding up, not slowing down as in emergencies. Table in the corner. The perfect table, I am thinking. Now he has to ask me. The center tables are ambiguous. The corner tables are definite.

They pour the wine. He tastes it, nodding. He orders our food; I let him. I can't feel my legs.

There is a long, flesh-eating silence. And then he says, "So what should we do?" "About what?" I ask, caressing the stem of my glass. I am going to make this as difficult as possible for him, I don't know why. There seem to be bonus points involved.

"You know what," he says. He has a wide, strange smile, like a maniac who is about to reveal that he is strapped full of Plastique explosives.

"What what?" I ask.

Now I am smiling too. I can't help it.

"Maybe we should get engaged." He says it.

"Maybe we should," I say.

I take a long slow sip of wine. I have seen our cat, Cow Kitty, whom we call the Cow for short, do this to bees. First he stuns them and then he watches them die.

"Do I have to do it now?" Michael asks. He sees the waiter headed toward us, a large tray held expertly overhead. He has ordered the Yankee Flatiron Pot Roast, with baby vegetables. $28.95. "Can't we wait until after?" he says.

"No. You have to ask me now," I say. The pot roast is an incentive, making sure it's hot when he eats it. I'll get this out of the way, he's thinking, and then there will be pot roast.

"Will you marry me?" he says.

"Yes," I say.

We kiss. People around us continue to eat. It seems there should be something else, but there isn't. It's just a question, after all. Five words, including the answer. The pot roast arrives and he eats it all. I barely touch my cod; it is impossibly pale. I can see the plate through it. It occurs to me that I may be dreaming. I pinch my arm.

"What are you smiling at?" he asks.

"Nothing," I say.  I'm awake, I don't say.

I always thought I would cry, but I don't.  I laugh.

Later we get on the speaker phone and call my mother, who lives in Carmel with my stepfather, Don.  She whoops.

It's difficult not to feel insulted.  We finally found a buyer for the Edsel.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Meet the Author

Suzanne Finnamore lives in Larkspur, California.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Otherwise Engaged: A Novel 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I haven;t enjoyed a novel this much in years. I was sick to see it end. The heroine is a smart sassy babe who has her faults in spades and admits to every single one. Her love life is under the magnifying glass as she contemplates and lives through a year full of not only being engaged, but being alive and past 30. The world of advertising is delightfully sent up in this uproarious story of marriage and career for the modern woman. From the Untimatum to the Walk down the aisle, you'll be entranced. Just wanting more now. More! More! More!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The honesty and spare writing style of Otherwise Engaged is surely why it has remained a classic in an over-crowded genre. Perhaps it is because this highly entertaining novel avoids the shallow details almost altogether -- the bulk of the story pivots on the dilemma/mixed blessing of a late marriage after the glibness of youth has waned and Reality is a real factor in the decision to take the leap of faith down the aisle -- yes, The Aisle that leads more than half its newlyweds to certain doom! Unique, thoughtful , this book breaks all the rules and gets high marks for style and wit. A superb read and food for thought.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the one to buy and to read and to give to your girlfriends so you can laugh together and realize that it's only marriage, after all. But the author does a marvelous job of telling Eve's story as she details,month by month, her year- long engagement to the man of her dreams. Those 'dreams of the perfect man and marriage' become a little intense and downright scary at times, when Eve considers her own parents' divorce and the statistics in general! Yet the honesty of her fear is well put and funny as well, and you know she is not going to bail. Or do you? Hilarious and intelligently written, Otherwise Engaged makes a superb summer read, an original and worthwhile wedding shower gift or bridesmaid favor - And what luck that even the bookjacket is nicely done. Bravo!
Guest More than 1 year ago
That is how I ended up buying this novel instead of the others that came directly after its publication -- yes the marriage novel has become a trend, but this is the genuine article. Tart, funny, smart, charming. A great gift as well. I love everything Finnamore has written, and I hope to see another novel in the immediate future!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Oh my gosh. I just read Otherwise Engaged last winter when I was married, at 46, to my fiance of 55. I was his Second Wife, as was Eve in this wonderful, uproarious novel. I could so relate to her doubts, passions, and excitement as the big day approached. It made me feel better to know I was not the only one thinking...For The Rest Of Your Life....socks on the floor. His. And now I've read The Zygote Chronicles, a novel written and dedicated to the author's son. It's brilliant. So I am spreading the word, and saying that your money is indeed not wasted on a validating experience, and a quick and splendid read. Well-written as well as informative and fun, I love both these books.... for the woman with a sense of humor, going through changes with a capital C. Highly recommended.....and much enjoyed.....
Guest More than 1 year ago
Just like the TLC song, this book is all that -- crazy, sexy, cool. Suzanne Finnamore had me hooked from the start. Not only does she tackle a subject near and dear to many a woman's heart, to marry or not to marry, and, once decided, the ensuing roller-coaster ride to the alter -- she does it with great humor, wit, and a devastating accuracy. The story alone is one that can make for a good read, but the artistry of Suzanne Finnamore's writing is what elevates this book beyond mere 'good fiction' to a work of art. I couldn't turn a page without coming across yet another beautifully crafted turn of phrase, so fresh and unusual, I longed to have written it myself. This is a unique voice, and one that I expect will catch the 'ear' and hearts of many discerning readers. I have a feeling that the name Suzanne Finnamore will be aptly placed alongside other greats of this genre such as Fay Weldon and Helen Fielding to name but two.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a classic amoung my girlfriends. I am now buying my fourth copy as an engagement gift for my sister. It is funny as well as touching, and the writing is quite fine, a cut above the genre. Don't miss it...!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I couldn't get into the writing style of this author. I got bored halfway through and gave up on reading the novel! The character is fun and smart, but she went out with her guy when he was dating someone else. What makes her think that he's going to stay faithful since he cheated in the past? Doesn't make a promising future. Yeah people make mistakes and its just a novel but I got so tired of it. It was all right.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Calling All Women Otherwise Engaged by Suzanne Finnamore is quite an experience to read. The story is about a woman (narrator of story) who has recently gotten engaged and is explaining the emotional roller coaster of planning a wedding to the readers. However, her experiences throughout the book relate to all women, regardless of her age, race, or the fact that she is engaged. The book takes a reader from the narrator being single to her standing at the altar. The comments about men, weddings, single life, and engaged life apply to all women. Women have all experienced at least one of these stages or more. The opinions that the narrator voices on these experiences is the opinion that most women believe, yet do not voice it. The narrator bluntly states to the readers that she is afraid of being an old single lady, sitting in front of her television, and eating canned food. Many women have thought of this, probably multiple times throughout their lifetime. Yet seeing another woman think the same thoughts we do, is amusing. The narrator¿s thoughts and experiences in the novel are something all women can read and say, ¿I¿ve been there.¿ Nevertheless, Suzanne Finnamore does an amazing job targeting women of all kind.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What fun! And what a great voice this author has -- loved the humor and the ironic asides that women think but don't often say. Definitely breaks the taboos on talking about the desire to find true love and make it last and to do it with your eyes wide open. The Zygote Chronicles, her latest novel, is also pure delight. You won't be sorry !!! Also , both books make stellar gifts for women friends..........delicio
Guest More than 1 year ago
My husband kept asking me what I was reading on the beach --some of her comments are a bit harsh, with a grain of salt, enjoy a mindless, well-written hysterical novel about us 'older' brides!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Otherwise Engaged is a well written book that is as insightful as it is witty. Eve is a very memorable character who is likeable and easy to relate to.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Laughed out loud several times. This to me is enough for any novel - but this book offered more. Caustic wit, depth and a realt true-to-life and passionate love story, without the bodice-ripping or bad writing. LOve this author's voice. Waiting for more
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was so funny! I can't wait for Suzanne Finnamore to write another novel. It was laugh-out-loud funny for me! Highly recommend!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I didn't really enjoy this book as much as I had expected . I found the narrator to be very self-absorbed and annoying. It didn't bore me, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to others.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was very funny. I am not yet engaged - although I am PATIENTLY waiting. I could really see myself and my relationship in Eve and Michael. Not the perfect couple, but perfect for each other. I could also see why any 'feminists' out there wouldn't like it. I guess they just don't know how it feels to love a man enough to be overly excited when the proposal finally comes. I thought the way the author describes each experience is so real, you can't help but laugh at the familiarity of it all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I liked this book but I did not love it. It was good but not great. I found that I did not care very much about any of the characters.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I belatedly found this book on the Barnes and Noble Great New Authors for 99 display, and I was once again impressed by their astute selection. Luckily, Otherwise Engaged was out in Vintage paperback, listing many media kudos to make me feel secure in my choice, and saved me money besides! I agree with Anne Lamott's cover quote that it was charming, smart and witty. I read it from cover to cover with sheer delight. I can't wait to see what this unique and sparkling author does
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book and laughed and cried the whole way through. it's a real treat and I recommend it to anyone who's married, unmarried, or even THINKING of getting married. Compelling, touching, and REAL.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book has been haunting me in the stores for months. I really wanted to read it, but had no time. So I received it for Valentine's Day and read it all the way through. It was the most enlightening piece of work I've ever read and I recommend it to anyone who has a sense of humor. I loved it and hope you do too.
Guest More than 1 year ago
or any woman who has ever been engaged, is engaged, or is even thinking about getting engaged, I would recommend this book. I read it in two sittings and was laughing out loud often
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was given Otherwise Engaged by my best friend after she realized I was going mad with planning a wedding for 150 people, my mother-in-law's 'helpful suggestions,' and my husband-to-be who had no idea what all the fuss was about. Well, Thank God! I laughed my way through the pages and kept looking to see how many I had left, hoping I could stretch it out to my wedding day. What a real and touching love story between two characters who adore one another but are also set in their ways and overwhelmed by stress...there may be some perfect couples out there, I suppose, but they would be boring to read about. I love this author's style and ascerbic wit -- additionally, it's refreshing to read a novel that isn't afraid to tell the dark side of commitment -- many people never get that far (see Runaway Bride), but luckily I made it. I have been married for four months and it is far easier than being engaged! I recommend this book, and I also recommend that anyone in their right mind elope..