I heard about this novel due to various reviews over at the Cannonball 5 site. I probably would have never even heard of this otherwise although I did recently notice that her other novel, Eleanor and Park was on an end cap display. The novel is set in late 1999, and focuses on three different characters. Of those three, I would describe Lincoln as the main character since half of the chapters are from his perspective. I gained insight into all three, but knew more details about what exactly was going through Lincoln's head. The book alternates between chapters from Lincoln's perspective, and an email exchange between Jennifer and Beth. All three work at a newspaper in Nebraska, Jennifer as a copy editor, Beth in the entertainment section, and Lincoln is the IT guy. Since this is 1999, the company is worried about Y2K. The time frame also means that the company can still get away with being fairly technology-phobic, having only recently been convinced that things like the internet are around to stay. Part of Lincoln's job is to monitor email usage and flagged messages which may appear due to a variety of flagged words or even frequency of emails. It is as a result of this work duty that Lincoln first gets to know Jennifer and Beth.
As Lincoln reads their emails for any abuse of company policies, he grows to genuinely like both of the women, and never gets around to flagging them. Jennifer is married and decidedly freaked out by the idea of having children which her husband wants. Beth has been in a relationship with a musician for about ten years, or since college. She loves him, she supports him, but she would also like to get married. The fact that her younger sister is engaged certainly isn't helping her feelings on the matter. Lincoln just recently moved back in with his mom after spending the last ten years at school, collecting degree after degree. Though he hates his job and reading people's emails, the fact that he has finally left school surely has to be seen as a sign of progress. He has also been single since his last relationship ended, and has not pursued anyone since. However, as he reads the emails, he starts finding himself more and more attracted to and interested in Beth. He even begins socializing more, and improving himself in other ways. Still, he has no idea what to do about Beth due to his unethical knowledge of her private life.
While Lincoln is clearly doing something questionable and wrong, he is incredibly sympathetic and it is understandable how he got into this dilemma. He has been observing life for the past few years, letting things happen to him, and his fascination with Jennifer and Beth begins as him once again observing someone else living their lives. It's impossible not to root for Lincoln, and hope that he figures things out, and sympathize with the women has they handle their daily lives and jobs. In fact, I could see parts of myself in every single one of these characters, or at least relate to their actions and feelings.
It was an incredibly sweet novel, and very relatable. When I first read the descriptions of this novel, I was afraid it might by cloyingly sweet or overly quirky, but I was completely proven wrong. It was about people attempting to find their place in the world, while making the occasional fumble or getting stuck in a rut. I also think the time setting made complete sense because not only does the Y2K piece work well for the IT part, but if it had been more contemporary I would have had doubts about the economy and anyone having a career in print journalism - isn't it amazing how much of a difference 14 years make?