Tuesday, September 8, 2015

No one can ever know the inner parts of anyone else's marriage. It's a strange business

Back in July I wrote about my book selection process. This was inspired by me reading J. Courtney Sullivan's book The Engagements, which I'm pretty confident I would have never picked up had 1) other people recommended it and 2) I put it on my Goodreads list and even though I forgot why, I figured past me sometimes has good taste. Thank you everyone who recommended this book, even though I forgot who exactly you may be, because I really loved this book.

Romance and love story type things are not my typical first-choices when it comes to books. There are those I've read and even loved (anything Rainbow Rowell has written, for example) but it's still a genre I'm skeptical about. Which I should maybe get over because I almost missed this book. Or at least took a lot longer to read it than I probably otherwise would have.

The Engagements is a series of loosely-related stories, centered around love and marriage, spanning from the '40s (and onward) when Frances Gerety, an advertising copywriter, comes up with the now-famous tagline "A Diamond is Forever", to a couple in the '70s who are trying to come to terms with the fact that their son seems to be breaking his family apart, to a Boston EMT who is having some financial-related marital problems, to the '90s when a French antiques dealer leaves her husband to run off with a famous violinist, to a woman in the early 2010s who hates the whole concept of marriage and yet is roped into her cousin's big gay wedding.

The stories aren't all happy. The relationships are complicated. The characters aren't all likeable (but not in a The Dinner sort of way). Actually, now that I think of it, most of the characters are fairly unlikeable (or at least do some very unlikeable things). But all of the stories are interesting. They look at the way love and marriage has evolved, all anchored by Gerety's work through the decades to convince generations of couples that if you want to really say I love you, you say it with a diamond. This isn't a nefarious ploy on her part. She's in advertising and her client is De Beers and her job is to make people want to buy their diamonds. And I'm going to say now that Frances is definitely not one of the unlikeable characters. She's working in a man's world (think how awesome things were for ladies in the Mad Men offices) and kicking ass. Also Gerety is the real person who came up with the tagline and it seems like Sullivan captured how kick ass she was in real life so hooray for that.

Without meaning to, I was thinking of The Engagements a bit like dating someone. At first I was thinking "Hmm I really like this book. I hope things continue to work out." Then later it was all "Guys, I don't want to jinx it, but things are going really well with this book." Then finally "Oh man, I think this is one of the top books of the year. This is the real thing, you guys."

GIF Rating:
Title quote from page 471, location 6368

Sullivan, J. Courtney. The Engagements. Vintage, 2013. Kindle