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21st Century,  General Fiction

The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan

I had planned to review The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan for St. Valentine’s Day, but live got on the way and it took me a few more days to read it than expected which was amazing. I wished there was more pages or maybe one more sitting for this one.

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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.

I first heard of The Engagements thanks to Naomi from The Writes of Women – as usual, mind you – and I contacted the publishers asking for a review copies, but they had run out of them. However, they kindly promised to send me one when the paperback was released this past January. So, I would like to thank them for being so kind and remembering me.

Why was I interested in The Engagements? Well, I loved the idea of an engagement ring connecting people. In Europe it is not common at all to pass your engagement ring to your son so that he proposes and until recently, women did not wear diamond engagement rings. It was considered American and, therefore, foreign. But in recent years things have changed and maybe one day mothers will be giving their rings to their sons. Who knows?

So, basically, The Engagements tells the story of four women and their partners who stand up for four different times and views in marriage and that is where the richness of the book lies. I think there are as many opinions on marriage as people, but there has been trends and Sullivan seems to have nailed them. And the best part is that they are all fine, legitimate and tolerable. Because they are views and Sullivan allows her characters to form those views, struggle with them and come to terms with them or just ask themselves what they were thinking. Frances, Evelyn, James, Delphine and Kate are all related to engagement rings in very different and particular ways and they are so well-written that it is almost impossible not to sympathize with them.

I do not know if the title and the story may look interesting to people who are not interested in engagement rings per se. I hate the label “chick-lit”, but I think many will use it with this book which is a shame. I loved the anthropological study behind the story, how engagements and marriage mean something in our minds but turn out to be completely different. And also, how ideas can mess people or make them happy or just create a necessity for them that was not there two centuries ago. Human beings are complex, but more so are the relationships we built with each other and The Engagements is a book about one of the most intimate, complex and talked-about of those relationships. I wished I could have given it a 4,5 review over at Goodreads, because this makes an almost perfect reading.

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