The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan

engageI loved Maine and so was excited about a new book by this author. I got on the hold list early and got it pretty quickly when it came out.  Unfortunately I had other things to read and before you knew it it was due on Saturday and on Friday I hadn’t yet started it.  I didn’t want to go back on the hold list and wait, what to do? Well, I read the first 10 pages and was hooked. I figured I could read it and get it back just a few days late (which I did, having just finished it this, Sunday, morning. It was so good that I wish I had read it more slowly to make it last and savor it.)  I approached this book the same way I did The Husband’s Secret--without having read the blurb, a review, or any other information about the story. It’s not often that you can do that because usually you choose a book based on what it’s about, but when you can and it works out well, it’s a lot of fun.  (So I guess you should stop reading this post now if you want to go that route because I’m about to tell you a bit about it.)

The story opens with Frances Gerety burning the midnight oil on her latest assignment for her ad agency.  For several years now she’s worked on their De Beers account, creating ads that promote diamonds for engagement rings.  That night Frances comes up with “a diamond is forever.”  So right here I was hooked. I mean, we’ve all seen those DeBeers ads and read that slogan and I myself am wearing a diamond engagement ring. And now, Frances and Sullivan are telling me that a huge part of Frances’s job was to create the idea that engagement rings should have diamonds in them and that entire concept is an advertising agency’s idea and part of De Beers’s scheme to control all the diamonds in the world!!

The story continues alternating between four different characters/couples, along with Frances.  Each of those couples is in a different time frame, so we read about people from the 1920s up to the present day.  After I read the first few people I wondered if they were all going to connect together or if it was short stories, or what. I resisted the urge to read the blurb and let it just play out as it would.  And really, it was so worth it.   Connected or not connected, I loved each couple’s story and the way she was able to capture so many different time periods, as well as types of relationships.  I was charmed by Evelyn and Gerald and on the edge of my seat rooting for working class James and Sheila to get a better life. I liked Kate’s story, too–the character opposed to marriage.  Kate made me feel like a lousy parent because she was apparently a wonderful mother who never yelled at her daughter, but also totally judgmental about people who let their kids have Barbies and stuff.  And yet, Kate is the lone voice of questioning and pointing out the source of diamonds and the terrible things that go on in Africa because of that industry.  Frances’s story is such an interesting thread throughout the book.  Not only does she give us the perspective of the diamond industry and its manipulation of the American mindset about romance, weddings, and diamonds, but she also has her own great story about being a working girl and finding success on her own.

The way each character sometimes told their own backstory (which made even more stories and layers within the book) reminded me a bit of the last Maeve Binchy I read.  I really like that technique-I feel like I’m getting bonus stories that fill out the characters. My favorite part was the story of how Evelyn and Gerald got together, which was really the romantic story of Evelyn and Nathaniel.

This was really terrific. I loved it start to finish (and loved the ending), lots to think and talk about.  I remember from her previous books that she writes about very wealthy people quite a bit, along with definitely not wealthy people, and that is very much a part of this book as well. 

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