Published April 2011 by Penguin Group
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours
Lincoln is not happy in his job as the night shift IT guy at the newspaper. There's not nearly enough work for him to do and one of his official duties is to monitor the company's email filtering system, making sure that employees are not using the computers for personal purposes or using certain language. Lincoln is living in a rut outside of his job as well. He's spent most of the last ten years in college, earning two Master's degrees and living with his mother. His sister is at him constantly to move on from the broken heart he suffered his freshman year of college that started his downward spiral, but Lincoln just doesn't it in him to develop a plan for the future.
"Love. Purpose. Those are the things that you can't plan for. Those are the things that just happen. And what if they don't happen? Do you spend your whole life pining for them? Waiting to be happy?"Beth and Jennifer are friends who also work at the newspaper. They know their emails are monitored but they just don't seem to care. When emails between the pair start popping up in the filter that Lincoln is reading, he finds himself drawn into their worlds, their friendship. Jennifer tells Beth about her anxiety about having children and Beth tells Jennifer about the problems in her relationship with her boyfriend, a local rock musician. They talk about their mothers, their jobs, their appearance...everything.
Soon Lincoln realizes that he's fallen in love with Beth.Then Beth starts talking about a cute guy in the building. "My Cute Guy" she calls him. Then one day, as he's reading an email between the women, Lincoln realizes that he is Beth's cute guy. But there's no way Lincoln can possibly approach Beth. No way he can explain how he knows so much about her. No way he can explain why he's been to see her boyfriend's band perform so often. But somehow, all of this has finally caused Lincoln to start taking the tiny steps he needs to take to move on with his life.
Rowell uses an unusual style in this novel. The narrative switches between a third-person point of view when we're looking at Lincoln's side of the story while switching to an epistolary (email version) style for the conversations between Beth and Jennifer. This did take some getting used to but given the premise that we're introduced to Beth and Jennifer because of their email dispatches, it seemed appropriate to continue in the vein. Rowell creates likable characters and it was enjoyable to watch each of the three leads slowly grow over the course of the year-long span of the book.
One of my favorite characters in the book was the city itself. My city. It's always fun to read a book set in the place where you live, particularly when it's written by a person that knows that place, who refers to places that are familiar. The story starts in August of 1999 and, in addition to bringing the hype of Y2K back to mind, Rowell revisits events and places of note in the city at the time including a concert venue that has now been torn down to make room for a Wal-Mart and the fight to save the last Cinemarama theater in the country.
Having read Rowell's column in our local paper for years, I had an idea what style her writing might take in a novel, what I hoped to find in a novel written by Rowell. I was not disappointed. Her style is light and humorous, as in this exchange between Beth and Jennifer:
Rowell is no slouch at writing heartwarming and heartbreaking as in this conversation between Lincoln and his high school sweetheart, Sam, who he followed to California for college and who is pulling away from him:"<
>It wasn't much of a story: I went to get some M&M'S from the break room today, and ended up in line behind the publisher at the snack machine. I was sure he would choose a conservative and traditional snack--perhaps mixed nuts or a great American Hershey's bar--but, no, he went right for the Salsa Verde Doritos.< >This is at odds with everything I thought I understood about our editorial policy.< >I know. How can someone who eats Salsa Verde Doritos so vehemently oppose gay marriage?<< >And affirmative action. >And traffic roundabouts."
This quote is just for my family. It's not meant to be funny, and I always love when authors use words that are out of the ordinary, but I laughed out loud when I read it because of a conversation my family had years ago:""You're reminding them that I'm other," she said. "That I'm a freshman, that I'm not from around here. I need them to look at me and see my role. To see my talent and nothing else. You're reminding them that I have this cloying Heartland backstory.:"What cloying?" he asked."The adoring-Germanic-farm-boy thing.""I'm not a farm boy.""To them, you are," she said.""
"The Village Inn had reached its 3:00 A.M. nadir when Lincoln got up to leave."Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me in this tour; it was a pleasure to see what Rowell is capable of when she's got a full novel in which to play. For other, perhaps less biased reviews, check out what the rest of the reviewers on the tour think of this freshman effort.