Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Book 77: The Engagements

This is the second novel I packed with the express purpose of reading it on the plane.  Sullivan's novels could easily be shelved as "chick lit" since they deal with women's relationships, but they also are deeper than something like Shopaholic, being kind of the perfect middle ground between entertaining beachy read and literary novel.  Her previous two novels dealt with four women's perspectives, and this one follows a similar path.  However, Commencement and Maine both dealt with women who knew each other, either by being college friends, or part of the same family.  In this one, Sullivan does something slightly different, addressing marriage, relationships and engagements by using women and men from different time periods, backgrounds and social-economic classes.  Mixed in with her usual four perspectives, Sullivan uses an actual historical figure to frame these pieces, and explain the obsession with engagements and diamonds.
Frances Gerety is the historical person, and she is the copy editor that came up with the phrase "A Diamond is Forever."  Diamonds hadn't always been as popular for engagements as they are today, and Gerety is part of the media campaign that helped make them synonymous with the word engagement (her ad agency was also responsible for the term "coffee break").  Despite this defining slogan, Gerety struggles in the ad world due to her gender as can be seen in chapters that show her at later stages of her career.  One obvious example addressed is that she misses out on business opportunities by not being a member of the country club or part of the golf games held there.
The other four characters represent various views and ideas of marriage.  Evelyn and her husband have been married for decades, but her son's marriage is faltering in the early '70s.  James is a paramedic in the '80s, whose family is accumulating more and more credit card debt and barely scraping by.  Delphine is a Frenchwoman in her early 40s that has left her husband for a musician in his 20s and moved to New York with him only to discover that she made the wrong choice by following her passion.  Finally, the last one is Kate, a happily unmarried woman who has been living with her partner Dan and child for a long time but has no desire for the marriage or wedding, and is in fact shocked by the whole wedding complex.  With gay marriage finally legal in her state, her close friend and cousin and his partner decide to get married, and her cousin quickly becomes just as crazy about wedding planning as everyone else Kate has seen in the past.
I liked how Sullivan threw in all these different perspectives though James was my least favorite of all the main characters.  There is of course one common thing that connects all the stories, and it wasn't necessarily obvious how this item would end up tying into everyone's stories, so I enjoyed that added little piece of mystery though it was really just a fun part of the novel, and not the point at all.  I liked all the other characters, though Kate was the one I was probably agreeing with the most, "yeah, why do weddings cost that much, why are they such huge deals and productions?"  I never was that girl that had her wedding planned out ahead of time, and the whole idea just sounds like a headache to me, but I'm also afraid that if I ever got to the whole engagement part of a relationship, I would try to make it really nice, and go overboard and spend way too much, especially given how nice my friends' wedding pictures all are on FB.  I've also been very conflicted on engagement rings because on the one hand, I absolutely want a diamond ring and it's my birthstone and I love jewelry but on the other hand I realize there are better things to spend money on, and it bugs me that guys don't wear them so it kind of seems like the guy is just marking his territory (I realize that's not the case now ...).  I don't think I have to worry about that for a while though so right now I can just say the novel has given me more to contemplate.

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