One of the things that I love about switching to mini-reviews for fiction is that I don’t need to take notes or think too hard while I’m reading, I can just enjoy a book. The only problem with that situation is that when I feel somewhere in the middle about a book — as I did with both Attachments and A Tale for the Time Being — it’s hard to remember exactly why. But I pulled out my thinking cap and, I hope, have some thoughts to share with you about what I liked and didn’t like about a couple of piece of contemporary fiction.
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
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. But he can’t help being entertained-and captivated-by their stories.
By the time Lincoln realizes he’s falling for Beth, it’s way too late to introduce himself.
Attachments is probably not a book I would have picked up if not for an enthusiastic review by a fellow book lover and my total adoration for Rainbow Rowell’s most recent book, Fangirl. I bought the ebook of Attachments a couple of years ago and started reading it, but the story didn’t grab me so I never finished it.
I picked it up a second time a few weeks ago when I just needed something frothy and ended up reading it in a single day. It was a sweet, diverting book, although it didn’t grab onto me the way Fangirl did – maybe Rowell’s style is more suited to YA characters? In any case, I liked both Lincoln and Beth and thought the style of the story – alternating from emails between Beth and Jennifer to chapters about Lincoln – was a fun storytelling device. I didn’t love the book, but it made me excited to pick up Eleanor and Park sometime soon.
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace – and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine. Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox – possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.
I thought A Tale for the Time Being was an ok book… but I think my “meh” reaction is a case of a disconnect between what I expected and what I ended up getting. The early sections of the book are very down to earth – so real and current that, in the back of my head, I started to think of the book like I might think about a work of nonfiction. For example, I just read a book that was, in part, the story of the process of investigating and telling a story; in this book, there’s a sense of process as Ruth tries to uncover the mystery of Nao and her diary. I was thinking one thing, then book twisted and gave me something entirely different.
Late in the book there’s a moment that is decidedly “un-real” (maybe magical realism, although I’m honestly not sure if I’m using the term correctly) that caught me off guard and affected how I felt finishing the book. I think if the book had stayed “real” I would have ended up loving it, but because of the twist I felt like the ending didn’t match what had come before it, which left me a little bit disappointed. That’s not entirely fair to the book, I know, but that was my reaction. That said, I loved Ozeki’s writing and I am excited to try another of her books.