THE ENGAGEMENTS by J. Courtney Sullivan

Vacation read #2 was a book that I’ve been trying to get to all summer: The Engagements, by J. Courtney Sullivan. I’ve been a fan of Sullivan’s since reading Maine two summers ago and was excited to give her latest a try.

Like Maine, The Engagements has more character development than plot, which was fine with me. It contains four stories about love and marriage, spanning thirty years between 1972 and 2012. Evelyn and Gerald have been happily married for 40 years, but are now facing the demise of their son’s marriage, which brings up some tough memories about how they met. Present-day Kate and Dan don’t believe in the need for marriage to establish their commitment to each other and their young daughter. James and Sheila, struggling financially in the mid-1980s, nonetheless stay true to each other. Finally, Delphine, a French woman who left her husband in 2002 to follow a young American musician to New York, wonders if she made the right choice. The stories are all underpinned by the true story of Frances Gerety, a young copywriter who wrote the famous DeBeers’ tagline, “A Diamond is Forever” in the 1940s, thus cementing the diamond ring as the symbol of love and marriage for decades to come.

I enjoyed The Engagements quite a bit. Each of the storylines was compelling, with twists and surprises that kept me guessing how they would play out. (The individual strands do connect, eventually, at the end of the novel.) I liked these flawed characters, with the exception of Kate, who is possibly the most self-righteous character I’ve come across in a book recent memory. She was so heavy-handed in her organic food-eating, anti-materialistic, ultra-socially conscious way that I found myself rolling my eyes at her throughout the whole book.

I like Sullivan’s writing – detailed and rich, but also smooth and easy. This was a fun and satisfying book to read. Lots of detail, lots of historical touches thrown in. (You can tell that Sullivan does exhaustive research for her books.) Again, there are many flashbacks and not a lot of plot. But that didn’t bother me – I enjoyed getting to know these characters and their lives.

Sullivan did a reading from The Engagements at Politics and Prose earlier this summer, which I will write about in my next post.