Book Review: The Engagements, by J. Courtney Sullivan

The bestselling author of Maine returns with an exhilarating novel about Frances Gerety, the real pioneering ad woman who coined the famous slogan “A Diamond is Forever,” and four unique marriages that will test how true—or not—those words might be.

Evelyn has been married to her husband for forty years, but their son’s messy divorce has put them at rare odds; James, a beleaguered paramedic, has spent most of his marriage haunted by his wife’s family’s expectations; Delphine has thrown caution to the wind and left a peaceful French life for an exciting but rocky romance in America; and Kate, partnered with Dan for a decade, has seen every kind of wedding and has vowed never, ever, to have one of her own. As the stories connect to each other and to Frances’s legacy in surprising ways, The Engagements explores the complicated ins and outs of relationships, then, now, and forever.

I listened to this on audiobook.

This book was much more substantive than the cover implies. I loved how every character had a different relationship to marriage – from traditional to firmly anti to everything in between. It was so cool how all the characters tied together through the ring – but I did miss when Frances had it and how it passed to Evelyn and Gerald – can anyone help me with that? It’s driving me crazy.

My favorite character/storyline was most definitely Frances, the ad woman who designed such a successful campaign for diamonds that it changed the tradition of engagements forever. It was fascinating to hear the history and the evolution. And I loved that Frances was so fiercely independent. She wasn’t some spinster who couldn’t find a man to make babies with. She simply wasn’t interested. Like my own Great Aunt Frances, she preferred being alone and was perfectly content with her decisions. I particularly enjoyed the conversations she had with her ad woman friend – reciting the list of stupid questions she was asked as the token woman of the office. If you liked Peggy Olsen on Mad Men (personally one of my heroes), you would like Frances’s story. Oh, did I mention she’s based on a real person?

I liked Evelyn’s story too, as well as James’ and his family. Their Boston accents alone were worth the audiobook vs print version. And while I practically LOATHED Delphine (I had a whole paragraph sounding off about her, but decided to edit) and found Kate correct but tiresome, I really liked and respected the author’s use of each character to represent a different aspect of feminism through the ages.

Four stars from me, and I’ll definitely be checking out more of J. Courtney Sullivan’s work!

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