Everything that rises must converge. With five running parallel plots in J. Courtney Sullivan’s The Engagements, the reader can assume that at some point, these stories will collide. Each story, character, and situation, however, is engaging all on its own; their lines do not converge for quite some time, but there is no agitation or anxiety in the wait because, if anything, there is always the sense that their sentiments collide. Each story, that is, except for one.
It begins, wisely, back in 1947 where we meet a young, single woman working as a copywriter at a Philadelphia advertising firm. It is her job to sell the engagement ring, something that was never important until her copy, “A Diamond is Forever,” became the most important ad of the 20th century. We then follow four other couples and see what engagement, marriage, and the diamond ring means to them. We travel back and forth in time and get to experience love in its first act, only to return to their present lives. Their pain, desperation, and hardships are symbolized within each ring, making it an important part of everyone’s lives.
That is, again, except for one story. Shakespeare used parallel plot lines, Flannery O’Connor, Quentin Tarantino, and Harper Lee used parallel plots; the list goes on. And, admit it, there’s always one character you find a little underwritten, or not as captivating, or, in the case of The Engagements, an obvious rambling of the writer’s own convictions on the diamond industry. Meet Kate. She has a beautiful daughter (who she won’t let play with Barbies or eat sugar), a loving “partner” (Dan, and he doesn’t care about getting married either), whose flimsy argument against marriage is that she doesn’t need a piece of paper to . . . yeah, yeah, we have heard it before. We have also heard about blood diamonds. We also have the ability to calculate how many African children Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding could have fed. Kate is a thirties-something mother who acts like she never grew out of her college freshman feminism phase, and unfortunately, the only character Sullivan writes to challenge Kate’s ideas is her airhead sister.
Do not let this thwart you. Kate, a bit one dimensional, still overcomes quite a chaotic day. You will find all sorts of dimensions within her other characters (my favorite being the Parisian, Delphine).
I sincerely recommend J. Courtney Sullivan’s The Engagements. Coming in at almost 500 pages, it is surprisingly a fast read. It’s also a comforting reinforcement that love, no matter where in the world or what time period, is always difficult, messy, challenging, and completely rewarding.
EBook of The Engagements available here.
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