Thursday, August 1, 2013

Taylor Reads Adult: The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan

Title: The Engagements
Author: J. Courtney Sullivan
Genre: Adult (Historical?) Fiction
Published: January 2013 by Knopf
Source: Borrowed
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
The Engagements

Summary from Goodreads: From the New York Times best-selling author of Commencement and Maine comes a gorgeous, sprawling novel about marriage—about those who marry in a white heat of passion, those who marry for partnership and comfort, and those who live together, love each other, and have absolutely no intention of ruining it all with a wedding.

Evelyn has been married to her husband for forty years—forty years since he slipped off her first wedding ring and put his own in its place. Delphine has seen both sides of love—the ecstatic, glorious highs of seduction, and the bitter, spiteful fury that descends when it’s over. James, a paramedic who works the night shift, knows his wife’s family thinks she could have done better; while Kate, partnered with Dan for a decade, has seen every kind of wedding—beach weddings, backyard weddings, castle weddings—and has vowed never, ever, to have one of her own.

As these lives and marriages unfold in surprising ways, we meet Frances Gerety, a young advertising copywriter in 1947. Frances is working on the De Beers campaign and she needs a signature line, so, one night before bed, she scribbles a phrase on a scrap of paper: “A Diamond Is Forever.” And that line changes everything.

A rich, layered, exhilarating novel spanning nearly a hundred years, The Engagements captures four wholly unique marriages, while tracing the story of diamonds in America, and the way—for better or for worse—these glittering stones have come to symbolize our deepest hopes for everlasting love.


I'm not usually drawn to adult fiction, but something about The Engagements stood out to me. Maybe it was because I love the idea of multiple storylines being connected by one small factor. Or maybe it's because I'm a sucker for historical fiction. Whatever the case, I'm very happy I took the time to read The Engagements because it was a literary work of art.

The Engagements tells the story of four different marriages set during four different times in the past century. Only the fifth story,  that of Frances Gerety, the woman who coined the phrase "A Diamond Is Forever," actually moves through time. The other four stories take place over a day, more or less, and incorporate flashbacks and backstory masterfully to tell the entire tale of our characters' lives.

I was immediately enamored with J. Courtney Sullivan's writing. Normally, the introductory phase of a novel is the most tedious part; the conflict has yet to make itself known and there's no reason to care about the characters. The Engagements has five separate introductions for the reader to get through, yet it was never tedious. Sullivan writes in a way that drew me in without me even realizing it and made me long to keep reading even thought I'd only read Part I.

The Engagements is set during multiple time periods, from 1947 to 2012. Though I knew the novel focused on multiple characters, the inclusion of multiple time periods was unexpected and delightful. I enjoyed being able to see the changes and continuities in the way marriage and divorce is viewed throughout the different times.

The characters in this novel are wonderfully varied and unique. Not once did I feel as though the tone or thoughts of one character was bleeding into another. Sullivan writes old, young, male, and female equally fantastically. She doesn't romanticize the life of a young couple with a family but without much money, nor does she soften the sting of a love affair gone horribly wrong for a Frenchwoman who gave up everything for a man who goes on to scorn her.

The only reason I'm not giving The Engagements five stars is the ending. Something about it was a touch unsatisfying. There wasn't a lack of closure, exactly, but I was left feeling a bit uneasy about the paths some of the stories would end up going down. Although, I do admire Sullivan for giving these characters realistic lives that don't all end in happily ever after. Maybe I'm more disappointed in the way the stories tied together than the way they ended. I think I hoped for more connection than there was.

The Engagements is an engrossing novel about much more than love and marriage. It touches on family relationships, and the affect small decisions can have later in life as well. Sullivan's writing is superb, a true pleasure to read. I will definitely be looking into her previous novels now that I know how much I love her style.