‘From: Jennifer Scribner-Snyder
To: Beth Fremont
Sent: Wed, 08/18/1999 9:06 AM
Subject: Where are you?
Would it kill you to get here before noon?’
It’s 1999 and for the staff of one newspaper office, the internet is still a novelty. By day, two young women, Beth and Jennifer, spend their hours emailing each other, discussing in hilarious detail every aspect of their lives, from love troubles to family dramas. And by night, Lincoln, a shy, lonely IT guy spends his hours reading every exchange.
At first their emails offer a welcome diversion, but as Lincoln unwittingly becomes drawn into their lives, the more he reads, the more he finds himself falling for one of them. By the time Lincoln realizes just how head-over-heels he really is, it’s way too late to introduce himself. What would he say to her? ‘Hi, I’m the guy who reads your e-mails – and also, I think I love you’.
After a series of close encounters, Lincoln decides it’s time to muster the courage to follow his heart…and find out whether there really is such a thing as love before first-sight.
What I thought:
This book shouldn’t work. No I’m serious it really shouldn’t. Of the three main characters you only ever get a fleeting glimpse of one, another appears right at the end, and the third spends his time reading their emails between each other as they discuss person details like if they want kids or not.
Falling in love with someone via reading their emails sounds creepy. I know I’d be creeped out if it someone was reading my emails. In modern terms it would be like someone reading the texts between you and your best friend, those details are personal and you’re sharing them in confidence. The thought that someone is reading them feels perverted, like they are reading your thoughts, it wasn’t meant for them.
And yet, it works. Somehow Rowell has pieced it together in a way that works Lincoln knows that what he’s doing is an invasion, he tries to stop himself and yet technically his job is to look. He should just send a quick message telling them they are breaking protocol by sending personal emails but he’s interested and more importantly to begin with – he’s bored. Trust me I worked night shifts for 3 years, when you’re the only one in the office it is DULL. So the possibility of a distraction is one you grip wit both hands and then he’s in too deep, he wants to know what Beth or Jennifer have done next. And he falls for Jennifer, for her thoughts and her way with words. Its an escape and actually you can see how he does it, she’s words on the screen. It’s like falling for a character in a book, you never meet them but you still know them. Obviously there’s a difference Jennifer is real but Lincoln has that same attachment, he gets to know her through her words and never finds out what she looks like until he’s in too deep. (for obvious reasons neither of the two women say what they look like on their emails because that would be weird…)
As it’s set in an IT department in the latter half of 1999 there is also plenty of talk of Y2K and people’s genuine fear of it. I was only 7 at the time so I remember people talking about it but not much else. Reading this book I can just why people were worried, technology obviously existed but it was only just becoming a regular thing in people’s homes. I think we had a desktop then, but if we did it was still pretty new. It was becoming part of society but people were still scared of it, (as I’m sure people will say about AIs or other future technology) most people simply didn’t know enough. And really 00 is a reset code so it makes sense that people would think that the turning of the century would reset everything.
Lincoln’s relationships grow throughout the book as he forces himself to get out of the house more (mostly because he’s 28 and still living with his mother) and make the most of the things. Almost like a pre-new year’s resolution ‘its going to be a new century so I’m going to be a new person or a better one by then’ kind of thing. He’s also a steorotypical computer nerd of the time, his circle of friends all play dungeons and dragons together, he still lives with his mother, and he works in IT.
Why I read it:
I downloaded it onto my kindle ages ago because I love Rainbow Rowell (Fangirl is one of my favourite books) but the plot left me feeling a bit ‘urgh’ so I wasn’t in a rush.
However when I didn’t know what to read I passed my kindle over to my sister and told her to pick something for me from the 30-40 odd that are downloaded. (And not the 600+ that I’ve bought over the years. I find it’s easier to pick something at random if I don’t have EVERY book). She picked this one out and passed it back – she’s also read it before and had been pushing me to read it for a while. So I did, we were waiting at the airport so I had nothing else to do. By the time we got off the plane I only had a couple of chapters left which I read on the train.
Rainbow Rowell manages to make something work which shouldn’t. It’s full of real characters and strong women (something that I’ve come to take for granted from Rowell but shouldn’t be). It’s an enjoyable read that captures the feeling of the end of 1999 with the technological fear but also in the way that they worked in the lead up to the new century. Beth and Jennifer are real characters even if we don’t actually meet them, and Lincoln grows to the point where he is able to move out of his childhood home and stand up to the people who are pulling him back. It’s also funny and heartfelt, a lot of what is said in the emails is actually not said. Both women know what has happened so it doesn’t need to be said, they talk around things and Rowell trusts the reader to read between the lines and understand the implications.
I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed it.
Would I recommend it: Yes. I’d always recommend her as an author anyway but this is one I might name check in the future when talking about her.
Popsugar: Set in the decade you were born (1990’s)
In exciting news this was my last book for January.
The next post is just going to be a challenge one showing which ones I’ve done so far and then I’ll start my February reads with ‘Born a Crime’ by Trevor Noah.
As always please let me know what you think of the book if you’ve read it or if my words have made you want to read it.