by Rainbow Rowell
(Dutton, $25.95, G) ISBN 978-0-525-95198-8
Attachments takes place in the innocent days of 1999, when email was a relatively new concept, and cell phones werenít yet smarter than their owners. Itís the perfect setting for a Youíve Got Mail -meets- Sleepless in Seattle romantic comedy. If writer-director Nora Ephron has any sense, sheíll base her next movie on this delightful debut novel.

Best friends Jennifer Scribner-Snyder and Beth Fremont work at the fictional Omaha Courier, where the conservative management has recently, and grudgingly, given its employees online access. Jennifer and Beth make the most of their new perk, discussing Jenniferís ambivalence about getting pregnant with her new husband, and Bethís complaints about her commitment-phobic boyfriend. In between emails they manage to find some time to copy edit (Jennifer) and write movie reviews (Beth).

Lincoln OíNeill has too many college degrees, a tender heart, a mother who wonít let go, and a job he hates. As the Security Officer for the Courierís IT department, Lincoln monitors the employeesí email messages to ensure there are no signs of pornography or other deviant behavior. Jennifer and Bethís emails are flagged by the security software, and although Lincoln quickly discovers the women are harmless, he canít stop peeking in on their ongoing conversations. He finds himself falling for Bethís humor, wit and compassion, even though he has no idea what she looks like. Although Lincoln is afraid his love for Beth is destined to remain unrequited (he canít even start a conversation with her), he is determined to become a man more worthy of her attention. Will Lincoln overcome his shyness and confess his feelings to Beth? Will Beth realize that living with a man who plays lead guitar for a band named Sacajawea is a dead end? And who is the cute guy in the Courierís advertising department that has suddenly caught Bethís attention?

Rainbow Rowell (I would love to know if that is her given name) writes for the real-life Omaha World-Herald, so she can portray newsrooms with plenty of accuracy and snappy dialogue. The biggest challenge she faces is making Lincoln a heroic character, instead of a creepy stalker. She succeeds for the most part, by showing enough of his life outside of the dubious job that the reader gets to know him as a friend, son and brother. In fact he is pretty much a smart womanís dream man Ė sensitive, caring, committed, cute (but ignorant of his good looks), loyal, nice to old ladies Ė if you ignore the fact that he is stalking one of his co-workers.

Beth is more of a standard 1990ís Chick Lit heroine who doesnít realize she deserves better than a frequently stoned, marriage-averse boyfriend. Rowell gives her a bit of an obsessive edge as well, so that Lincolnís behavior doesnít seem as strange in comparison, but she is more of a place-holder than a strong distinctive character. Her emails to and from Jennifer are a little longer than the ones weíre used to now, but back in 1999 none of us sent Twitter-like messages of less than 140 characters, so they donít seem unrealistic.

If thereís one major frustration in Attachments, itís the same one I experience with all Sleepless in Seattle-themed romances: the hero and heroine are obviously made for each other, but because of the plotís gimmick, they canít be brought together until almost the very end of the story. The reader has to take it on faith that they will live happily ever after, despite the lack of any real relationship building. But as long as you can buy the fantasy, you will find Attachments a sparkling, light-hearted page-turner of a love story. Well done, Ms. Rowell Ė I suspect youíll be getting that call from Nora Ephron any day now.

--Susan Scribner

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