Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Review: The Engagements

Summary: 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. -- Knopf

Two summers ago, I read MAINE by J. Courtney Sullivan and thought it was terrific. You can read my full review here. Needless to say, I was extremely excited to learn that Ms. Sullivan had a new book coming out this summer called THE ENGAGEMENTS; and even better, it was generating a lot of positive reviews. Even my go-to source for book recommendations, Entertainment Weekly, gave it an A-! I have to say that I positively adored this novel, and it's quite possibly one of my favorite reads of the year.

Simply put, THE ENGAGEMENTS is an encompassing story about love and marriage -- and by that, I mean all types of marriages. For those of you who are married, you probably know that marriage can be a wonderful thing, but it can also be quite complex. THE ENGAGEMENTS explores all the ups and downs, as well as the highs and lows, and even the intricacies of the institution of marriage.

What I loved so much about THE ENGAGEMENTS is how this book actually portrayed at marriage. Ms. Sullivan chose to tell this story to the reader by telling five very different stories over the course of 50+ years. All of the characters in these tales were equally compelling to me, and that's really saying something! I adored how the book went back and forth between the various stories as well as the way it moved through the years. I loved seeing how marriage is not only different for each couple, but also how it has evolved/changed through the years.

I hesitate to go into too much detail about the characters because I picked up this book knowing almost nothing about it, and I loved how the story and the characters' lives unfolded. One character that really stood out to me was Frances Gerety, the woman who was responsible for coining the phrase, "A Diamond is Forever." Ms. Gerety is an actual person and I was extremely impressed with how Ms. Sullivan incorporated the facts in her life with the rest of the story. I have a feeling that the author did a fair amount of research on advertising companies and the role of women, and I found it fascinating.

The book also looked at four other couples' stories; and through the various chapters, the reader gets to see their different experiences with matrimony. By featuring these different couples in different settings, I thought the author really explored marriage and what it can mean to different people. However, I admit I was a bit confused about how (or if) these stories would come together. I honestly couldn't figure out how they were related. Shame on me... I shouldn't have doubted Ms. Sullivan. By the end of the novel, I was shaking my head and smiling with how everything came together -- it was just perfect!

Naturally, I'm going to suggest that your book club consider THE ENGAGEMENTS for its next selection! There is a reading guide available with eighteen questions, but I'm sure you'll have plenty to discuss on your own. Some of the themes you might want to explore include marriage (duh!), love (duh again!), feminism and the role of women, "unmarriage," parent/child relationships, and trust to name just a few. 

There truly are so many wonderful things about THE ENGAGEMENTS -- the characters, the history, the writing, and the way it made me think about the institution of marriage. Once again, I was extremely impressed with how well Ms. Sullivan brings her characters to life and makes me care about them. Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


Sandy Nawrot said...

I hear what you are saying and I saw the EW review, but I'm still holding back. I'm not sure why. I wasn't blown away by Maine (I think Kathy and I were the only ones on the planet that felt that way). We will see. If it throws itself in my path, or I find that the audio has a great narrator, I might.

Beth F said...

I loved Maine but only liked The Engagements. I guess I wanted to know more about Frances and didn't care that much about the other couples. BUT it was well written and I'd read anything Sullivan wrote.

bermudaonion said...

Yep, I'm the only person besides Sandy who didn't love Maine, so I passed on this one and now I'm wondering if that was a mistake. I'm glad you liked it so much!

Hey, I want to read that! said...

I missed Maine. My sister read it and didn't love it and I think that put me off. I think I will probably hold off on this one. That being said I do love going into a book sometimes knowing nothing about it. It really is an adventure that way.

Unknown said...

I haven't read Maine, but I have The Engagements on to TBR - more excited to read it after your review!

ChaosIsAFriendOfMine said...

I loved this book too! Just like you, I could not figure out how all the characters were going to end up connected. I loved how it turned out.