Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Between the Covers | ‘Attachments’ is the Nora Ephron Romantic Comedy


When you read this next sentence, please imagine that I am screaming it from a rooftop or while running down M Street: “Attachments” by Rainbow Rowell is one of the best romantic comedy books — ever.

You might recognize the author’s name, as she is known for her young adult fiction with hits like “Eleanor & Park,” “Fangirl” and “Carry On” in her repertoire. However, Rowell actually started her writing career with adult fiction novels like “Attachments” and “Landline.”

“Attachments” tells the story of Lincoln, an aimless young character who takes a night job in a newspaper’s IT department reading emails that have been flagged for inappropriate content. Set in 1999, the book rests on the unique cultural moment when people were worried about the Y2K problem, the idea that computers would glitch and become unable to differentiate between data based on the last two digits of the year. People were realizing just how powerful the internet was when there were fears that it would disappear with the turn of the century and cause the apocalypse. While at this job, Lincoln is forced to read the communications between two other employees at the paper, Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder, who both constantly procrastinate by emailing each other. 

The exchanges are funny and kind, and soon enough Lincoln finds himself enjoying his task. Reading others’ emails is messy in itself — but of course, since things can only get more complicated in a rom-com, he starts to fall for Beth, a girl he has never met.

The plot of the novel juggles a volatile bomb of ethical questions — with one careless movement from Lincoln, it could all go horribly wrong. Reading other people’s conversations without their knowledge poses ethical concerns, since proper procedure would be to send out a warning that emails were being monitored, but Lincoln fails to do so, keeping his work a complete secret. However, Rowell turns the potential ethical mess of this plot into a hilarious, heartwarming story that reminds one of — prepare yourselves, because I do not give this compliment lightly — the Nora Ephron romantic comedy.

For those unfamiliar, Nora Ephron was one of the best writers and directors of the ’80s and ’90s. She was sharp-tongued, insightful and blunt, and she brought the world around her to life with a word count that would impress any editor. Though she was primarily a novelist with books like the semi-autobiographical “Heartburn,” she was most famous for her movies.

Three things defined the classic Nora Ephron romantic comedy: actress Meg Ryan, witty banter and a solid ’90s feel, regardless of whether it was actually made then. With this criteria in mind, I present the following movies as her classics: “When Harry Met Sally,” “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail.” She wrote the first and co-wrote and directed the other two. Go watch them and come back to this article. 

And you’re back! Aren’t you glad you watched them? Now you can go tell all the people, like your dad, who think “The Godfather” is the best movie ever made that they are sorely mistaken.

As it relates to “Attachments,” besides the ’90s setting, it is evident that Ephron and Rowell share the unique ability to make a story out of what is said … and unsaid. The magic lies in their unique type of dialogue — simmering, intriguing, insightful, mysterious, but above all whip smart.

Though the majority of the main love story develops over emails read by Lincoln, as if “You’ve Got Mail” was between Meg Ryan and the mailman instead of Tom Hanks, Rowell still manages to provide a romance that feels anything but virtual. The lively conversations between Beth and Jennifer thrust both readers and Lincoln directly into their worlds, even though Lincoln is a background character in their realities. 

“Attachments” is the Nora Ephron romantic comedy of books, which is on the same level as the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in my world. The whole novel is a master class in restraint, from the jokes to the characterization to the romance. It is not too much of anything, balancing its romantic and comedic aspects with the steady voice and precision that Rowell brings to everything. 

And even if you don’t read this criminally underrated gem of a novel after finishing my dissertation on why it’s so great, then please at least take the time to appreciate the contributions “Attachments” has made to the best lines of romantic literature: “Do you believe in love at first sight?” “I don’t know. Do you believe in love before that?”

Shakespeare could never!

Well … he probably could. My point is, though, isn’t the world just a little better for having writing like that in it? That is a rhetorical question … because the answer is yes, of course. At the end of the day, sharing this book and quote with you has been my good deed for the week, so I can go to sleep tonight knowing I was a Hoya for others.

Melinda Reed is a first year in the College. Between the Covers appears in print and online every other week. 

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