Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that somebody is monitoring their work e-mail. (Everybody in the newsroom knows. It's company policy.) But they can't quite bring themselves to take it seriously. They go on sending each other endless and endlessly hilarious e-mails, discussing every aspect of their personal lives.
Meanwhile, Lincoln O'Neill can't believe this is his job now—reading other people's e-mail. When he applied to be “internet security officer,” he pictured himself building firewalls and crushing hackers—not writing up a report every time a sports reporter forwards a dirty joke.
When Lincoln comes across Beth's and Jennifer's messages, he knows he should turn them in. He can't help being entertained, and captivated, by their stories. But by the time Lincoln realizes he's falling for Beth, it's way too late to introduce himself. What would he even say...?
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Penguin Group|
|File size:||806 KB|
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
From: Jennifer Scribner-Snyder
To: Beth Fremont
Sent: Wed, 08/18/1999 9:06 AM
Subject: Where are you?
Would it kill you to get here before noon? I’m sitting here among the shards of my life as I know it, and you …if I know you, you just woke up. You’re probably eating oatmeal and watching Sally Jessy Raphael. E-mail me when you get in, before you do anything else. Don’t even read the comics.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> Okay, I’m putting you before the comics, but make it quick. I’ve got an ongoing argument with Derek about whether For Better or For Worse is set in Canada, and today might be the day they prove me right.
<<Jennifer to Beth>> I think I’m pregnant.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> What? Why do you think you’re pregnant?
<<Jennifer to Beth>> I had three drinks last Saturday.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> I think we need to have a little talk about the birds and the bees. That’s not exactly how it happens.
<<Jennifer to Beth>> Whenever I have too much to drink, I start to feel pregnant. I think it’s because I never drink, and it would just figure that the one time I decide to loosen up, I get pregnant. Three hours of weakness, and now I’m going to spend the rest of my life wrestling with the special needs of a fetal alcoholic.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> I don’t think they call them that.
<<Jennifer to Beth>> Its little eyes will be too far apart, and everyone will look at me in the grocery store and whisper, “Look at that horrible lush. She couldn’t part with her Zima for nine months. It’s tragic.”
<<Beth to Jennifer>> You drink Zima?
<<Jennifer to Beth>> It’s really quite refreshing.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> You’re not pregnant.
<<Jennifer to Beth>> I am.
Normally, two days before my period, my face is broken out, and I get pre-cramps cramping. But my skin is as clear as a baby’s bottom. And instead of cramps, I feel this strangeness in my womb region. Almost a presence.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> I dare you to call Ask-A-Nurse and tell them that you’ve got a presence in your womb region.
<<Jennifer to Beth>> Given: This is not my first pregnancy scare. I will acknowledge that thinking I’m pregnant is practically a part of my monthly premenstrual regimen. But I’m telling you, this is different. I feel different. It’s like my body is telling me, “It has Begun.”
I can’t stop worrying about what happens next. First I get sick. And then I get fat. And then I die of an aneurysm in the delivery room.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> OR …and then you give birth to a beautiful child. (See how you’ve tricked me into playing along with your pregnancy fiction?)
<<Jennifer to Beth>> OR …and then I give birth to a beautiful child, whom I never see because he spends all his waking hours at the day-care center with some minimum-wage slave he thinks is his mother. Mitch and I try to eat dinner together after the baby’s in bed, but we’re both so tired all the time. I start to doze off while he tells me about his day; he’s relieved because he wasn’t up to talking anyway. He eats his sloppy joe in silence and thinks about the shapely new consumer-science teacher at the high school. She wears black pumps and nude panty hose and rayon skirts that shimmy up her thighs whenever she sits down.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> What does Mitch think? (About the Presence in your womb. Not the new consumer-science teacher.)
<<Jennifer to Beth>> He thinks I should take a pregnancy test.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> Good man. Perhaps a common-sensical kind of guy like Mitch would have been better off with that home ec teacher. (She’d never make sloppy joes for dinner.) But I guess he’s stuck with you, especially now that there’s a special-needs child on the way.
“LINCOLN, YOU LOOK terrible.”
“Thanks, Mom.” He’d have to take her word for it. He hadn’t looked in a mirror today. Or yesterday. Lincoln rubbed his eyes and ran his fingers through his hair, trying to smooth it down …or maybe just over. Maybe he should have combed it when he got out of the shower last night.
“Seriously, look at you. And look at the clock. It’s noon. Did you just wake up?”
“Mom, I don’t get off work until one a.m.”
She frowned, then handed him a spoon. “Here,” she said, “stir these beans.” She turned on the mixer and half shouted over it. “I still don’t understand what you do in that place that can’t be done in daylight…. No, honey, not like that, you’re just petting them. Really stir.”
Lincoln stirred harder. The whole kitchen smelled like ham and onions and something else, something sweet. His stomach was growling. “I told you,” he said, trying to be heard, “somebody has to be there. In case there’s a computer problem, and …I don’t know …”
“What don’t you know?” She turned off the mixer and looked at him.
“I think maybe they want me to work at night so that I don’t get close to anyone else.”
“Well, if I got to know people,” he said, “I might …”
“Stir. Talk and stir.”
“If I got to know people”—he stirred—“I might not feel so impartial when I’m enforcing the rules.”
“I still don’t like that you read other people’s mail. Especially at night, in an empty building. That shouldn’t be someone’s job.” She tasted whatever she was mixing with her finger, then held the bowl out to him. “Here, taste this …What kind of world do we live in, where that’s a career?”
He ran his finger around the edge of the bowl and tasted it. Icing.
“Can you taste the maple syrup?”
He nodded. “The building isn’t really empty,” he said. “There are people working up in the newsroom.”
“Do you talk to them?”
“No. But I read their e-mail.”
“It’s not right. How can people express themselves in a place like that? Knowing someone’s lurking in their thoughts.”
“I’m not in their thoughts. I’m in their computers, in the company’s computers. Everyone knows it’s happening …” It was hopeless trying to explain it to her. She’d never even seen e-mail.
“Give me that spoon,” she sighed. “You’ll ruin the whole batch.” He gave her the spoon and sat down at the kitchen table, next to a plate of steaming corn bread. “We had a mailman once,” she said. “Remember? He’d read our postcards? And he’d always make these knowing comments. ‘Your friend is having a good time in South Carolina, I see.’ Or, ‘I’ve never been to Mount Rushmore myself.’ They must all read postcards, all those mailmen. Mail people. It’s a repetitive job. But this one was almost proud of it—gloaty. I think he told the neighbors that I subscribed to Ms.”
“It’s not like that,” Lincoln said, rubbing his eyes again. “I only read enough to see if they’re breaking a rule. It’s not like I’m reading their diaries or something.”
His mother wasn’t listening.
“Are you hungry? You look hungry. You look deficient, if you want to know the truth. Here, honey, hand me that plate.” He got up and handed her a plate, and she caught him by the wrist. “Lincoln …What’s wrong with your hands?”
“Look at your fingers—they’re gray.”
WHEN LINCOLN WORKED at McDonald’s in high school, the cooking oil got into everything. When he came home at night, he felt all over the way your hands feel when you get done eating French fries. The oil would get into his skin and his hair. The next day, he would sweat it out into his school clothes.
At The Courier, it was ink. A gray film over everything, no matter how much anyone cleaned. A gray stain on the textured walls and the acoustic ceiling tiles.
The night copy editors actually handled the papers, every edition, hot off the presses. They left gray fingerprints on their keyboards and desks. They reminded Lincoln of moles. Serious people with thick glasses and gray skin. That might just be the lighting, he thought. Maybe he wouldn’t recognize them in the sunshine. In full color.
They surely wouldn’t recognize him. Lincoln spent most of his time at work in the information technology office downstairs. It had been a darkroom about five years and two dozen fluorescent lights ago, and with all of the lights and the computer servers, it was like sitting inside a headache.
Lincoln liked getting called up to the newsroom, to reboot a machine or sort out a printer. The newsroom was wide and open, with a long wall of windows, and it was never completely empty. The nightside editors worked as late as he did. They sat in a clump at one end of the room, under a bank of televisions. There were two, who sat together, right next to the printer, who were young and pretty. (Yes, Lincoln had decided, you could be both pretty and molelike.) He wondered if people who worked nights went on dates during the day.
From: Beth Fremont
To: Jennifer Scribner-Snyder
Sent: Fri, 08/20/1999 10:38 AM
Subject: I sort of hate to ask, but …
Are we done pretending that you’re pregnant?
<<Jennifer to Beth>> Not for 40 weeks. Maybe 38 by now …
<<Beth to Jennifer>> Does that mean we can’t talk about other things?
<<Jennifer to Beth>> No, it means we should talk about other things. I’m trying not to dwell on it.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> Good plan.
Okay. So. Last night, I got a call from my little sister. She’s getting married.
<<Jennifer to Beth>> Doesn’t her husband mind?
<<Beth to Jennifer>> My other little sister. Kiley. You met her boyfriend …fiancé, Brian, at my parents’ house on Memorial Day. Remember? We were making fun of the Sigma Chi tattoo on his ankle …
<<Jennifer to Beth>> Right, Brian. I remember. We like him, right?
<<Beth to Jennifer>> We love him. He’s great. He’s just the kind of guy you hope your daughter will meet someday at an upside-down-margarita party.
<<Jennifer to Beth>> Is that a fetal-alcoholic joke?
This wedding is your parents’ fault. They named her Kiley. She was doomed from birth to marry a hunky, fratty premed major.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> Pre-law. But Kiley thinks he’ll end up running his dad’s plumbing supply company.
<<Jennifer to Beth>> Could be worse.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> It could hardly be better.
<<Jennifer to Beth>> Oh. I’m sorry. I just now got that this wasn’t good news. What did Chris say?
<<Beth to Jennifer>> The usual. That Brian’s a tool. That Kiley listens to too much Dave Matthews. Also, he said, “I’ve got practice tonight, so don’t wait up, hey, hand me those Zig-Zags, would you, are you in the wedding? Cool, at least I’ll get to see you in another one of those Scarlett O’Hara dresses. You’re a hot bridesmaid, come here. Did you listen to that tape I left for you? Danny says I’m playing all over his bass line, but Jesus, I’m doing him a favor.”
And then he proposed. In Bizarro World.
In the real world, Chris is never going to propose. And I can’t decide if that makes him a jerk—or if maybe I’m the jerk for wanting it so bad. And I can’t even talk to him about it, about marriage, because he would say that he does want it. Soon. When he’s got some momentum going. When the band is back on track. That he doesn’t want to be a drag on me, he doesn’t want me to have to support him …
Please don’t point out that I already support him—because that’s only mostly true.
<<Jennifer to Beth>> Mostly? You pay his rent.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> I pay the rent. I would have to pay rent anyway …I would have to pay the gas bill and the cable bill and everything else if I lived alone. I wouldn’t save a nickel if he moved out.
Besides, I don’t mind paying most of the bills now, and I won’t mind doing it after we’re married. (My dad has always paid my mom’s bills, and no one calls her a parasite.)
It isn’t the who-pays-the-bills issue that’s a problem. It’s the acting-like-an-adult issue. It’s acceptable in Chris’s world for a guy to live with his girlfriend while he works on a demo. It’s not as cool to chase your guitar fantasy while your wife’s at work.
If you have a wife, you’re an adult. That’s not who Chris wants to be. Maybe that’s not who I want him to be.
<<Jennifer to Beth>> Who do you want him to be?
<<Beth to Jennifer>> Most days? I think I want the wild-haired music man. The guy who wakes you up at 2 a.m. to read you the poem he just wrote on your stomach. I want the boy with kaleidoscope eyes.
<<Jennifer to Beth>> There would very likely be no more 2 a.m. tummy poems if Chris got a real job.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> That’s true.
<<Jennifer to Beth>> So you’re okay?
<<Beth to Jennifer>> No. I’m about to get fitted for another bridesmaid dress. Strapless. Kiley’s already picked it out. I’m dog years away being from okay. But I don’t think I can complain, can I? I want him. And he wants to wait. And I still want him. So I can’t complain.
<<Jennifer to Beth>> Of course you can complain. That’s unalienable. On the bright side, at least you’re not pregnant.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> Neither are you. Take a pregnancy test.
JUST FOR THE record—his own internal record—Lincoln never would have applied for this job if the classified ad had said, “Wanted: someone to read other people’s e-mail. Swing shift.”
The Courier ad had said, “Full-time opportunity for Internet security officer. $40K+ Health, dental.”
Internet security officer. Lincoln had pictured himself building firewalls and protecting the newspaper from dangerous hackers—not sending out memos every time somebody in Accounting forwarded an off-color joke to the person in the next cubicle.
The Courier was probably the last newspaper in America to give its reporters Internet access. At least that’s what Greg said. Greg was Lincoln’s boss, the head of the IT office. Greg could still remember when the reporters used electric typewriters. “And I can remember,” he said, “because it wasn’t that long ago—1992. We switched to computers because we couldn’t order the ribbon anymore, I shit you not.”
This whole online thing was happening against management’s will, Greg said. As far as the publisher was concerned, giving employees Internet access was like giving them the option to work if they felt like it, look at porn if they didn’t.
But not having the Internet was getting ridiculous.
When the newspaper launched its Web site last year, the reporters couldn’t even go online to read their stories. And most readers wanted to e-mail in their letters to the editor these days, even third-graders and World War II veterans.
By the time Lincoln started working at The Courier, the Internet experiment was in its third month. All employees had internal e-mail now. Key employees, and pretty much everyone in the news division, had some access to the World Wide Web.
If you asked Greg, it was all going pretty well.
If you asked anyone in upper management, it was chaos.
People were shopping and gossiping; they were joining online forums and fantasy football leagues. There was some gambling going on. And some dirty stuff. “But that isn’t such a bad thing,” Greg argued. “It helps us weed out the sickos.”
The worst thing about the Internet, as far as Greg’s bosses were concerned, was that it was now impossible to distinguish a roomful of people working diligently from a roomful of people taking the What-Kind-of-Dog-Am-I? online personality quiz.
And thus …Lincoln.
On his very first night, Lincoln helped Greg load a new program called WebFence on to the network. WebFence would monitor everything everyone was doing on the Internet and the Intranet. Every e-mail. Every Web site. Every word.
And Lincoln would monitor WebFence.
An especially filthy-minded person (maybe Greg) had defined the program’s mail filters. There was a whole list of red flags: nasty words, racial slurs, supervisors’ names, words like “secret” and “classified.”
That last one, “classified,” beached the entire network during WebFence’s first hour by flagging and storing each and every e-mail sent to or from the Classified Advertising department.
The software also flagged large attachments, suspiciously long messages, suspiciously frequent messages…. Every day, hundreds of possibly illicit e-mails were sent to a secure mailbox, and it was Lincoln’s job to follow up on every one. That meant reading them, so he read them. But he didn’t enjoy it.
He couldn’t admit this to his mother, but it did feel wrong, what he was doing, like eavesdropping. Maybe if he were the sort of person who liked that sort of thing …His girlfriend Sam—his ex-girlfriend—always used to peek in other people’s medicine cabinets. “Robitussin,” she’d report in the car on the way home. “And generic Band-Aids. And something that looked like a garlic press.”
Lincoln didn’t even like using other people’s bathrooms.
There was a whole complicated process he was supposed to follow if he caught someone actually breaking The Courier’s rules. But most offenses called for just a written warning, and most offenders got the message after that.
In fact, the first round of warnings worked so well, Lincoln started to run out of things to do. WebFence kept flagging e-mails, a few dozen a day, but they were almost all false alarms. Greg didn’t seem to care. “Don’t worry,” he said to Lincoln on the first day that WebFence didn’t snag a single legitimate violator. “You won’t get fired. The men upstairs love what you’re doing.”
“I’m not doing anything,” Lincoln said.
“Sure, you are. You’re the guy who reads their e-mail. They’re all scared of you.”
“Who’s scared? Who’s they?”
“Everybody. Are you kidding? This whole building is talking about you.”
“They’re not scared of me. They’re scared of getting caught.”
“Getting caught by you. Just knowing that you’re snooping around their Sent folders every night is enough to keep them following the rules.”
“But I’m not snooping around.”
“You could,” Greg said.
Greg went back to what he was doing, some sort of laptop autopsy. “Look, Lincoln, I’ve told you. Somebody has to be here at night anyway. Somebody has to answer the phone and say, ‘Help desk.’ You’re just sitting around, I know. You don’t have enough work, I know. I don’t care. Do the crossword. Learn a foreign language. We had a gal who used to crochet …”
Lincoln didn’t crochet.
He read the newspaper. He brought in comic books and magazines and paperback novels. He called his sister sometimes, if it wasn’t too late and if he felt lonely.
Mostly, he surfed the Net.
From: Jennifer Scribner-Snyder
To: Beth Fremont
Sent: Wed, 08/25/1999 10:33 AM
Subject: This is only a test. In the case of an actual emergency …
It’s here. Return to your usual programming.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> It?
<<Jennifer to Beth>> You know …it, the thing that tells you you’re not pregnant.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> It? Do you mean your period? Your monthly? Did your aunt Ruby arrive for a five-to seven-day visit? Is it …that time?
Why are you talking like you’re in a feminine napkin commercial?
<<Jennifer to Beth>> I’m trying to be more careful. I don’t want to trigger one of those red flags and send some company watchdog computer into a frenzy, just because I sent an e-mail about it.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> I can’t imagine that any of the company’s red-flag words involve menstruation.
<<Jennifer to Beth>> So you’re not worried about it?
<<Beth to Jennifer>> About your period?
<<Jennifer to Beth>> No, about that note we got. The one that warned us not to send personal e-mails. The one that said we could be fired for improper use of our computers.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> Am I worried that the bad guys from Tron are reading our e-mail? Uh, no. All this security stuff isn’t aimed at people like us. They’re trying to catch the pervs. The online porn addicts, the Internet blackjack players, the corporate spies …
<<Jennifer to Beth>> Those are probably all red-flag words. Pervs. Porn. Spies. I bet red flag is a red flag.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> I don’t care if they are reading our mail. Bring it on, Tron! I dare you. Try to take away my freedom of expression. I’m a journalist. A free-speech warrior. I serve in the Army of the First Amendment. I didn’t take this job for the bad money and the regressive health care coverage. I’m here for the truth, the sunshine, the casting open of closed doors!
<<Jennifer to Beth>> Free-speech warrior. I see. What are you fighting for? The right to give Billy Madison five stars?
<<Beth to Jennifer>> Hey now. I wasn’t always a spoiled movie reviewer. Don’t forget my two years covering North Havenbrook. Two years in the trenches. I bled ink all over that suburb. I went Bob Woodward on its ass.
Furthermore, I would have given Billy Madison six stars if they were mine to give. You know how I feel about Adam Sandler—and that I give bonus stars for Styx songs. (Two stars if it’s “Renegade.”)
<<Jennifer to Beth>> Fine. I surrender. Company Internet policy be d@mned: I started my period last night.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> Say it loud, say it proud. Congratulations.
<<Jennifer to Beth>> Yeah, that’s the thing …
<<Beth to Jennifer>> What’s the thing?
<<Jennifer to Beth>> When it started, I didn’t feel my usual hurricane of relief and Zima cravings.
I mean, I was relieved—because, on top of the Zima drinking, I don’t think I’ve eaten anything with folic acid in the last six months. I may even be eating things that leach folic acid from your system, so I was definitely relieved—but I wasn’t ecstatic.
I went downstairs to tell Mitch. He was working on marching band diagrams, which, normally, I wouldn’t interrupt, but this was important. “Just FYI,” I said, “I started my period.”
And he set down his pencil and said, “Oh.” (Just like that. “Oh.”)
When I asked him why he said it that way, he said he thought that maybe I really was pregnant this time—and that that would have been nice. “You know I want kids,” he said.
“Right,” I said. “Someday.”
“Someday soon,” he said.
“Someday eventually. When we’re ready.”
And then he turned back to his diagrams. Not mad or impatient. Just sorrowful, which is much, much worse. So I said, “When we’re ready, right?” And he said …
“I’m ready now. I’m ready last year, Jenny, and I’m starting to think that maybe you never will be. You don’t even want to be ready. You act like getting pregnant is a disease you can catch from public toilets.”
<<Beth to Jennifer>> What did you say?
<<Jennifer to Beth>> What could I say? I’m not ready. And maybe I misled him every time I used the words “someday” and “eventually.” I can’t picture myself with kids …
But I couldn’t picture myself married, either, until I met Mitch. I always thought the kid idea would grow on me, that all Mitch’s healthy desires would infect me, and one morning I’d wake up thinking, “What a beautiful world in which to bring a child.”
What if that never happens?
What if he decides to cut his losses and find some perfectly normal woman who—on top of being naturally thin and never having turned to prescription antidepressants—also wants to have his babies ASAP?
<<Beth to Jennifer>> Like Barbie in a state of perpetual ovulation.
<<Jennifer to Beth>> Yes.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> Like the fictional new consumer-science teacher.
<<Jennifer to Beth>> Yes!
<<Beth to Jennifer>> It won’t happen.
<<Jennifer to Beth>> Why not?
<<Beth to Jennifer>> For the same reason Mitch tries to grow giant pumpkins every summer—even though your yard is too small, is infested with beetles and doesn’t get enough sun. Mitch doesn’t want the easy thing. He wants to work a little harder to get the thing he really wants.
<<Jennifer to Beth>> So he’s a fool. A fool whose seeds find no purchase.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> That’s not the point. The point is, he’s a fool who won’t give up on you.
<<Jennifer to Beth>> I’m not sure that you’re right, but I think I might feel better now. So, good work.
<<Beth to Jennifer>> Anytime.
(You know that I mean anytime after 10:30 a.m. or so, right?)
<<Jennifer to Beth>> (I do.)
JENNIFER SCRIBNER-SNYDER, ACCORDING to the company directory, was a Features copy editor.
Beth Fremont, Lincoln knew. He knew of, anyway. He’d read her movie reviews. She was funny, and he usually agreed with her. She was the reason he’d gone to see Dark City and Flirting With Disaster and Babe.
By the time Lincoln realized that he hadn’t sent a warning to Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder—after who knew how many offenses, three? half a dozen?—he couldn’t remember why not. Maybe because he couldn’t always figure out what rule they were breaking. Maybe because they seemed completely harmless. And nice.
And now he couldn’t send them a warning, not tonight. Not when they were actually worried about getting a warning. That would be weird, wouldn’t it? Knowing someone had read an e-mail you’d written about whether someone was reading your e-mail? If you were an excessively paranoid person, it could make you wonder whether all the other things you were worried about were also true. It might make you think, “Maybe they are all out to get me.”
Lincoln didn’t want to be the bad guy from Tron.
And also …Also, he kind of liked Beth and Jennifer, as much as you can like people from reading their e-mail, only some of their e-mail.
He read through the exchange again. “Ass” was definitely a red-flagged word. So was “blackjack” and “porn.” He wasn’t sure about “perv” or “menstruation.”
He trashed the files and went home.
What People are Saying About This
"Rainbow Rowell lights up the sky with this sparkling debut novel. ATTACHMENTS is fresh, fun and charmingly quirky."
Reading Group Guide
After moving back home to Nebraska following college, Lincoln isn’t exactly sure what he wants or who he is. He lives with his mother, he maintains an adequate social life among his role–playing friends, and he is amassing a decent income at his late night job vetting potentially unprofessional emails at The Courier. Apart from the occasional twinge of guilt reading others’ correspondence, Lincoln has achieved a somewhat contented stasis.
However, Lincoln gets hooked on reading the email exchanges between Features copy editor Jennifer Scribner–Snyder andThe Courier’s resident movie critic Beth Fremont. He begins to look forward to their banter and, after awhile, he realizes that he’s falling for Beth, a woman he has never laid eyes on. How can he possibly be in love with someone he’s never actually met, and, maybe more importantly, what would she do if she ever found out he has been reading her email every night for months?
Attachments is a story of two 20–somethings caught in the crisis of adulthood at the end of the millennium. It is tale about finding oneself and moving on. It is a novel about falling in love with the essence of a person rather than the surface.
ABOUT RAINBOW ROWELL
Rainbow Rowell is a columnist for the Omaha World-Herald. She lives in Nebraska with her family.
A CONVERSATION WITH RAINBOW ROWELL
Q. Attachments includes many references to pop culture, specifically circa the mid to late 1990’s. What is your relationship with pop culture? How does it inform your writing? From which corners of pop culture do you draw the most inspiration?
I’ve always been fascinated by pop culture . . . When I was a kid I would read books about the Beatles and the Monkees and pore over old Life magazines. Now I write a pop culture column for our city’s newspaper, The Omaha World–Herald.
As a writer, I use pop culture references almost as shorthand. Pop culture is shared culture, so if I say that someone is more of a Star Wars geek than a Star Trek geek, you probably know what I mean. If I say that someone prefers John Lennon to Paul McCartney, or Jacob to Edward, or Batman to Superman . . . You get it.
The trick in Attachments was finding nineties references that would still have meaning today. If I mentioned a song (“Who Let the Dogs Out?”) or an actor (Julia Roberts, John Wayne) or a movie (The Matrix), it had to be something that readers would probably still recognize and understand.
Some writers don’t like to use pop culture references in books or movies because they date a story. But I’ve never minded that. I like to experience a story in context.
A few of my favorite artists are really good at this - using pop culture references to help tell a story. I think of Nick Hornby (High Fidelity) and Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men.
Q. So much of the book consists of the email repartee between Beth and Jennifer. How did you go about crafting these exchanges? What was most important to you in creating the specific voices of these characters?
Well, it started as a cheat for me. This is my first novel, and I was really anxious about writing the third–person narrative. The descriptive parts. But I was much more confident about writing dialogue, and email is really just dialogue . . .
So I wrote all of the Beth/Jennifer scenes in first. I wanted their friendship to be a major part of the book - and I wanted to write about how female friendships have moved from the telephone to the computer. In a way, email feels even more intimate than the telephone because you don’t even have to say anything out loud.
I knew that it could get confusing, the switching back and forth between their two voices, so I tried to make them pretty distinct. Jennifer writes more formally than Beth does; she’s a copy editor, so she’s less likely to use sentence fragments or end a sentence with a preposition. She makes fewer pop culture references, and the ones she does make are less hip or current than Beth’s.
Beth is more self confident, and - in part because of her job - more laid–back. If I thought of a silly joke, I’d give it to Beth. If the joke was sharp or bitter, I’d give it to Jennifer.
Also, Beth is really amused by Jennifer, so I tried to make her sound fond and smiling.
I would actually smile when I was typing Beth’s stuff, then furrow my brow a bit when I was typing Jennifer.
Q. What role does this novel’s setting play in your writing of it? How much of Nebraska and the Midwest do you see in this book and how would a different setting have changed the story and characters?
Well, I wanted to set the book in Omaha because people in Omaha almost never get to see our hometown in books or TV or movies - and we get so excited when it happens.
But I didn’t want the location to be a distraction for other readers. (Almost all of the places I mention in Attachments are real Omaha places, but I never actually say “Omaha” anywhere in the book.)
I do think of the characters as very Midwestern . . . The way that Doris talks to everybody who comes into the break room and learns their names. The way that everyone is always offering each other food. The car culture. The gorgeous cheap apartments. The Lutherans.
Q. The characters in this book deal with significant loss and loneliness, but find powerful moments of love as well. What themes or topics do you want your readers to walk away with? For you, which character best speaks to the message of the novel and why?
Attachments is about three people who are all at that age - late 20s, early 30s - where you realize you’re not a kid anymore. You’re an adult. And you can’t just let your life keep happening to you. You have to take the reins, now, or risk never having any of the things you really want in life, whether it’s love or a family or the right job .
But you also realize at that age how little control you really have.
Life isn’t like the movies. Things don’t just fall into place because your favorite song is on the soundtrack or because it’s New Year’s Eve.
Lincoln is the heart of the book for me. He’s the character most in danger of sleeping through life. He has a lot to offer, but he’s been so passive for so long that you really think he might not ever stand up for himself.
Secondarily . I knew when I started the book that I wanted Lincoln to be a truly good guy. I didn’t want him to be the guy in the romantic comedy who starts out rude and sexist and is then transformed by true love into a good guy. I reject that entire idea. Bad guys don’t turn into good guys. If you want a good guy, you need to find one who’s already good.
I wanted Lincoln to be like the guys in my life - sensitive, kind, idealistic, feminist, smart. I wanted to show that a guy like that can be a dreamy romantic hero.
Q. What are you working on next? Can we expect more from Lincoln and Beth?
I don’t think I’ll write anymore about Lincoln and Beth (though I have been posting deleted scenes from the novel on my website, rainbowrowell.com). Those characters seem like they’re in a good place to me.
My next book comes out in 2013. It’s called Eleanor & Park, and it’s about two misfit 16–year–olds who fall in love over the course of a school year in 1986.
I wanted to write about how tragic every high school romance is. At 16, you’re old enough to fall in love - perhaps more powerfully than you ever will again - but you’re not old enough to do anything about it. Your life isn’t your own yet. In a way, every 16–year–old in love is Romeo or Juliet.
My goal was to write a story about first love that would actually make you feel 16 again while you were reading it. I wanted it to be visceral . . .
After Attachments, it was fun to write a book where the main characters actually meet and have scenes together.
- Who is Lincoln O’Neill? How would you describe his character when we first meet him? What is your opinion of the status of his life?
- Much of what we learn about Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner–Snyder comes from their email exchanges. What impression do you get of these two women? What draws you to Beth’s character? To Jennifer’s? What about their communication attracts Lincoln?
- Lincoln’s job, among other things, is to monitor company email. What is your opinion of Lincoln’s job? What ethical dilemmas, if any, did you see for Lincoln? How would you have acted given the same position and why?
- When we first meet Beth through her correspondence, we hear about her relationship with Chris. How would you describe their relationship? What draws Beth to Chris? How does her relationship with Chris affect Beth?
- How would you describe the fate of Lincoln’s college relationship with Sam? How does that relationship inform his actions throughout the book? How do you relate to Lincoln’s experience?
- What does Lincoln discover about the identity of Beth’s “My Cute Guy?” How does this revelation complicate the story? What is your opinion of how Beth goes about investigating her office crush?
- Beth’s longest email to Jennifer recounts the events of attending her sister’s wedding. What do we learn in that email? What does that email reveal about Beth and what she wants? What effect does this email have on Lincoln?
- What impact does his brief reunion with Sam have on Lincoln? What significance does the timing of this reunion carry within the story? How would you have handled the same situation and why?
- Jennifer is dealt a devastating blow late in the novel. How does this event change her? What is your opinion of Beth’s reaction to the news? How do you feel about Lincoln’s knowledge of this event?
- Lincoln learns through reading Beth and Jennifer’s email that he may have missed his chance with Beth. How would you describe his reaction to this news? How does his ensuing actions following the news differ from how you would have reacted?
- Describe your reaction to the moment between Lincoln and Beth in the movie theater. What strikes you about this moment? Knowing what Beth knows at that point, would you have acted as Beth did?
- Attachments brings up the interesting notion of “love before love at first sight.” Do you believe in this idea? Is it possible? What do you see in Beth and Lincoln’s future?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved, loved, loved this book! One of my all-time favorites. It is a feel-good, love every minute of it type of book. It's about an IT guy that monitors email at a newspaper. There are two women that don't seem to care if their emails are flagged and in fact, push the boundaries to get their emails flagged. The book is funny, cute, sweet, and fun! I'm looking forward to more from this author, this was her first book. I'll be suggesting it to my book club this month.
It starts off with Beth and Jennifer emailing each other. It shows their emails, and then the next chapter, it's just Lincoln's story. What he's doing, how he's feeling, everything. I absolutely loved the story. It was so sweet and not at all like the really intense stories I've been reading. Lately all I've read are stories with huge conflicts and so many problems and murders and whatnot. It was so nice to read a good, old-fashioned love story. The book was so cute and I loved all of the characters. The characters, in a way, matured throughout the book. They learned and they got out of some situations where they weren't progressing. To not give out any spoilers (which is hard by the way!), I can't say much else, but I absolutely loved this book. It was like a breath of fresh air. Rowell is a great author—I can't wait to read more of her books!
I just loved this writers sense of humor! The best line i ever read, "it was like working inside a headache" what an incredible gift for understanding what is truly funny to read great, great read!!! Cannot wait for her next bool
I don't think it is possible to describe the humor and absolute charm of this book. It is absolutely fab-tastic. At first Lincoln seems like an average guy who lives with his mom and isn't really motivated to do anything. Doesn't really sound like a character you could love but as the story continues we find that Lincoln is in a funk. He has multiple degrees and just doesn't know what he wants to do with his life. He also seems to suffer from low self-esteem. He is really really sweet. Jennifer and Beth are best friends and co-workers who get through their days by sending emails and chatting about their lives. They both have grand sense-of-humors and the exchanges are both meaningful and funny. Surprisingly Lincoln, Jennifer, and Beth's lives touch and it makes for a truly awesome and endearing story. Oh and did I mention funny? Very cute and funny. I loved loved this book! It felt so real and I was so invested in each of the characters. I don't typically prefer contemporary fiction because if you don't read it at the right time, the references seem to become dated. This one is set in 1999 during the Y2K business. I don't think it can ever become dated. I loved how Lincoln grew from the beginning to the end. There were many great side characters as well. Doris, the co-worker with whom he shares his lunch, is the sweetest thing ever. Lincoln's mom and sister were interesting and so realistic. What can I say, I really loved everything about this book. All the personalities were fantastic and the humor was amazing throughout. Oh and there are many references to old movies which I love. I recommend this to people who love good books :)
I picked this book up thinking I would just read the first few pages and move on to something else. After the first five minutes I couldn't put the book down! I ended up reading this entire novel on a Saturday afternoon. Several laugh-out-loud and heartfelt moments kept me reading on. I really related to the characters - they felt like real friend by the end of the story. GREAT read - I'm trying to get all my co-workers to read it, too.
The time just before Y2K is the perfect setting for Attachments--any further into the 21st century and Lincoln would be just another creepy guy! Lincoln is hired by the last paper in the country (their words) to get computerized to monitor computer usage and emails, while readying the system for the possible crash when the calendar rolls over to 2000, He quickly latches onto emails between friends Beth and Jennifer and can't wait to check his Web folder every night for new interactions between them. The women's emails can get a bit long, but Lincoln's life plays out in real time. His move back home with his mom, and his relationships with his sister and various friends are almost enough to carry the whole book. Cute ending.
I absolutely loved this book. So sharp, so sweet, so funny. -------I don't count sheep, I self-loathe The pop culture references were just perfectly toned, slipped in with such talent that they completely worked to make me know these characters. I am so in love with Lincoln. The perfect sweet shy guy that we all know is out there but can never find. And Beth and Jennifer felt like friends, their email exchanged, though wittier that real live humans, is still the intimate chatting of great friends through little things and huge things. Rainbow Rowell kept me entertained and a little worried for poor sweet Lincoln, right up to the end. But it ended beautifully, perfectly. Attachments is wonderful.
Attachments is Rainbow Rowell's debut novel - and what a great debut it is! I adored it! When the girl of his dreams broke Lincoln O'Neill's heart he retreated...into academia, moving back home with his mother and giving up socializing. He's even taken a night job with no contact with co workers. He's working at a newspaper (The Courier) as the Internet Security Officer. It isn't until he starts the job that Lincoln realizes he will be monitoring internal emails for inappropriate content. Jennifer and Beth also both work at the Courier. They're best friends and their internal email is often (well, mostly) of a personal nature. Which, of course, flags it for Lincoln. He should send them a warning, but he doesn't....he shouldn't keep reading their communications...but he does....He is fascinated by their lives and he finds himself falling in love with Beth. Rowell has created such a warm, sweet, lovable character in Lincoln. His intrinsic goodness and caring (he's pretty cute too) make him a perfect catch, but he just can't see it himself. "Lincoln wasn't inherently un-dateable. He'd gone on a date three years ago. A friend's sister had needed a date to a wedding. She'd danced all night with one of the groomsmen, who turned out to be her second cousin, while Lincoln ate exactly thirteen cream cheese mints." "My get-a-life window. I think I was supposed to figure all this stuff out between twenty-two and twenty-six, and now it's too late." The novel unfolds in alternating chapters - first from Beth and Jennifer and then from Lincoln.We get to know Jennifer and Beth, but in more of an arm's length way, as we only know of their lives through the emails. It was very easy to get caught up in Lincoln's quest to reclaim his life. It was impossible not to root for him. The supporting cast of characters were just as engaging. Lincoln's mom and her reluctance to let go of her son, his sister Eve and her determination to drag Lincoln out into the world and his loyal circle of Dungeon and Dragon playing friends. But of all the supporting characters I think I enjoyed Lincoln's interactions with Doris the snack lady the most. His kindness towards her was touching. Rowell has written a delightfully heartwarming story. Attachments is a clever, witty, warm story that will capture you completely. A fantastic first novel - I'll be watching for Rowell's second!
4 Stars This book took awhile to get going I first thought. Then again, I had just received a pile of books from the library and my online ebooks were coming in from holds right and left. I think that was why I had trouble starting this book and getting into it. With that said, how freaking cute was this book?? It was adorable! I loved how two people can fall in love without even seeing what each other looked like or without saying a word. That definitely made the romantic in me swoon. I was a little worried "they" wouldn't get together but I knew Miss. Rowell wouldn't let me down. This is my first book from her and I will definitely be getting more books she's written. I loved how sweet Lincoln was with Doris and his mother. He actually cared about them and didn't just talk to them because he had to. Lincoln is a one of kind for sure, Sam doesn't know what she's missing! This book was very cute, I would've given 5 stars except for a little creepiness to their love story. Who would follow someone home after seeing them a couple of times? And who would be okay with dating someone who spied on you and your friends for what a year or so? So, a little creepiness but still very cute!!
I received an advance reader edition of this book from Penguin Group and Net Galley for the purpose of providing an honest review. 3 Stars I was so excited to see Attachments available on Net Galley. I have wanted to read something by Rainbow Rowell for quite some time so I snatched this book up right away. I liked this book but I was not blown away by it. I admit that I am a bit let down because I was really hoping to be blown away. Lincoln takes a job at a newspaper and his job is to monitor employee emails. Beth and Jennifer are friends who also work at the same newspaper and like to email each other during the day. Their emails are constantly getting flagged so Lincoln ends up reading what they write to each other. Lincoln does not send them any kind of warning but continues to read what they write to each other. Lincoln starts falling for one of the women through the emails she writes to her friend. In this book we get to see Lincoln's life but we only see Beth and Jennifer through the emails. I wish that Beth and Lincoln would have met in person before they did in the book. They don't meet each other until the very end of the book and I guess I am just not patient enough to wait that long. Of course, to be fair the story would be pretty much over once they meet and fall in love. I just got tired of waiting for Lincoln to do something. Every time I have started a new job, I have taken the time to introduce myself to my co-workers. Couldn't he have done that at least so he would at least know what she looked like? Despite my impatience, I did like the writing. I believe that this is Rainbow Rowell's debut novel. I have definite plans to read other works by this author.
Lincoln has moved back home after being away at school for years. He is happy to be back in his home town, but doesn't know what to do with himself. He gets a job at a local newspaper and is in charge of night IT calls, manning the help desk, and reading company emails as the "internet security officer". He knows his job is a joke, but he doesn't know what to do since his horrible break-up with his girlfriend, like 10 years ago. Beth and Jennifer are friends that work at the newspaper and often send each other emails back and forth throughout the work day, which is a no-no at work, but they never seem to get caught so they go about their business talking as girlfriends do about their love lives, families, work and anything else that comes to mind. So why are they never caught? Well Lincoln has grown fond of their conversations and looks forward to reading their conversations each day at work. He begins to fall for Beth, the hopeless romantic in a hopelessly not romantic relationship that is going nowhere. Can Lincoln be that man for her? But how does he go about introducing himself without sounding like a creeper of their emails? A sweet story about finding love in all the wrong places and never knowing that the object of your affection is in love with you as well. Funny and so true to life and love. Well written
I loved this book! I got it for the Daily Find and was not disappointed. Reminiscent of Bridget Jones' Diary, it has that same "when will these two get it right" vibe. The characters are charming and funny, just the sort you want in your circle of friends. Even the late 1990's setting added a whimsical flair to this story by avoiding today's IPhone/Facebook/Twitter-centric society and returning to the dawn of social media when it seemed like a wondrous new age. Lately I can't seem to get into a book, but this one had me hooked from the beginning. I will be looking forward to reading more from this author.
This book is absolutely fantastic....perfect, perfect romance! Wish I had a live like Lincoln and Beth! Great, great read!
I loved this book!!! It's cute and sweet, and funny!! I want to find a Lincoln of my own. This is one of my favorite books by Rainbow Rowell!
Lincoln is good at school, but not much else. Depressed and living with his mom after attending college for almost a decade, he begins working a night time shift at a company where he does pretty much nothing. Taking place in 1999, his job is in computer security . He is to read employee emails and make sure everyone is on task and not doing anything personal during work hours. During these random email checks, Lincoln virtually meets Beth. Through Beth’s messages to her friend Jennifer, Linc feels as if he knows this newspaper writer and begins to look forward to their daily correspondences. Never having actually met, Linc slowly falls in love with Beth’s words and actions, all through her electronic communication. Facing her personal bests and worsts, Lincoln begins to realize his own strengths as he rises out of his depression and into his life. Adorable, sweet, and heartbreaking are the top thoughts that kept running through my head as I was reading Attachments. My first Rainbow Rowell book and I was astounded by how clever she dealt with the characters. You never actually meet two of the main characters until the last few pages yet you know them almost as well as you know Lincoln, whose head most of hte story is told. Lincoln is a highly clever character. Telling his tale of his long lost love through his late night evenings at work, you can’t help but have your heart break as he talks of his first love. Told through anecdotes, Lincoln seems to be living on the fringes since his heart break. Pushed to be more adventurous by his mother and sister, he finds comfort in reading the emails between the two women. Beth, our love interest and mystery lady, we only meet through her correspondence. Living with an impossible man, but clinging to her love like an old sweatshirt, she finds herself in an almost impossible situation. Sweet and kindhearted, I loved Beth’s confidence and caring attitude. Lincoln falls in love with her the only way he knows her...her words, which I may love most of all. A thoroughly enjoyable read, Rainbow Rowell shines in Attachments. Gorgeously written and entertaining, the characters shine through this simple tale told by emails. Lincoln and Beth’s story show just how much we reveal of ourselves through unintended avenues.
This novel reminded me of some of my favorite romantic comedies of the 90's. It was like a delicious serving of "You've Got Mail" meets "When Harry Meets Sally". As Lincoln falls in love with Beth and begind to care about her friend Jennifer...you too will fall in love with Lincoln and the story. You begin to get attached to "Attachments".
I was happy to see in an Alumni magazine that Rainbow had written a novel and figured I'd pick it up at some point (Rainbow and I were in many classes together in college). I finally did and really, the book was great. The e-chats between Jennifer and Beth are likely the wittier versions of of email conversations you have with your co-workers, and Lincoln sees himself the way we probably all see ourselves. There was a point where I wanted things to move along a bit, and a point where I simply couldn't put the book down. Speaking as a girl who grew up in Omaha and went to college at the University of Nebraska, the little references to landmarks, buildings and streets gave me a great feeling of nostalgia. I do, however, wish the events of the second month of October in the book could have lasted a bit longer. I wanted to peek into some of the relationships a bit more. I guess that's what good books/stories do though, right? The scene ends, but it leavess me wanting more of the story. Instead I get to decide for myself what happened to Jennifer, Beth and Lincoln. Great work Rainbow. I'm looking forward to the next novels you have in the works.
If you like romantic comedies this is definitely the book for you. Witty, yet heart-warming at times, this book had me longing for my very own Lincoln. A modern love story that you do not want to miss!
Super cute love story!
Lincoln has started a new job that he doesn't care for. He works nights and he is to monitor staff email. The job was't what he thought it was going to be when he applied and interviewed to be an "internet security officer." Certain words or phrases will make staff emails pop over to him for review to make sure staff aren't breaking company policy. In this mix are Beth and Jennifer, who are nonstop chatting back and forth. Lincoln soon starts reading their emails back and forth and finds them hilarious and interesting. Instead of giving them a warning to knock it off, he continues reading the emails. And he eventually starts to fall for Beth. The book was amusing, thought at the same time a bit creepy having someone's job to just read emails back and forth among staff. The nonstop back and forth between Beth and Jennifer made me think more of instant messaging back in the day more than emailing back and forth. The novel was set in 1999, and I remember being on instant messenger a lot around that time. This was before you could just send a text to someone.
The story becomes clearer & clearer as the narrative moves through funny and real experiences. Always rooting for the underdog, I was not disappointed. Great characters who become friends slowly like in real life. (I rarely give 5 stars)
Even though this story is set in Y2K, if you change email to texting, it could be today. I really enjoyed the way words were used, the descriptiveness of the language and the relationships between the people