"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton
This is where I chronicle my reading life. I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.
My expectations weren't super high for this book -- it was Rainbow Rowell's first book, and it didn't garner nearly as much attention as her later ones. Perhaps that's why I was so pleasantly surprised.
I do not give five-star reviews lightly, but I loved this book. Rowell's prose is as accessible as always, but what really makes this book shine are the characters. Yes, that's a cliche way to review a book, but here it is so true that even weeks after finishing it I can still conjure these people up in my head. These are the kinds of people I know in real life; they are faulted and complicated and confused but basically all okay.
I do tend to like epistolatory stories, and about half of this book is told in emails between two friends at work. These chapters absolutely fly by -- my one complaint is that the emails are written more in the way that one would use IM than email, with single line replies going back and forth. Is this how people were using email back in 1999? I remember much longer chunks of text on both sides, more akin to actual letters. But I can forgive this lapse in realism for the way this format allows the story to progress quickly and effortlessly.
I also absolutely loved Lincoln, probably because I related to him. There are so few books about adults who have limited romantic experience and find themselves feeling perpetually on the outside. Although he falls in love with Beth through reading her email (he's hired to do internet security and reading work emails for policy violations is actually his job), Rowell manages to walk the line between sympathetic and creepy incredibly well. That is, even though the action itself may come across as creepy, she is so good at creating Lincoln as a decent, non-threatening character that it's easy to identify with both his guilt and his compulsion to keep reading -- as someone who spent so much of my single life inside my own head, I could understand why Lincoln chose to stay in that "safe" place where he could experience the feelings of attraction without accepting the complications of acting on them.
Secondary characters are also well-done -- I particularly liked the conversations Lincoln had with an older woman at work in the break room, and his interactions with his D&D group. The thing that probably bugged me most about the book was Lincoln's mom -- not her character so much, although she was kind of annoying, but the fact that she didn't have a job and yet didn't seem to be in poverty, and the book never explained this. If it were possible not to work AND also not worry about money, we'd all be doing it. This oversight felt particularly jarring against the accomplished believability of the rest of the book.
Still, I knew this book was something special when, as the ending neared, I felt certain that no matter how Rowell chose to wrap it up -- happy or heartbreaking or melancholy -- it would be perfect. And it was.