Posts Tagged relationships

The Engagements: book review


The Engagements by J.Courtney Sullivan. Publisher: Knopf (June 2013). Fiction. Hardcover. 400 pages. ISBN13: 9780307958716.

In the mid-40s a young female copywriter created that now well-worn saying “A Diamond is Forever” for a De Beers advertising campaign. Frances Gerety worked in the copy department of N.W. Ayer and Son among mostly men, never married and for the most part enjoyed her independent lifestyle. At the time, women in advertising worked on “women’s products” and provided the “women’s perspective” to particular clients [think about when Peggy on Mad Men gets called on for her opinions on lipstick or home cleaning products instead of airlines and cars]. Author Courtney Sullivan writes: “Others treated her like an exotic pet—a woman of forty, who worked alongside their husbands, with no apparent interest in a husband or children of her own.” I’d like to read an entire book about Frances Gerety.

Sullivan weaves Gerety’s story among those of four couples to illustrate love, marriage, commitment. Engagements, marriage, big wedding extravaganzas don’t interest me. I abhor diamond rings and would never wear one. Think about the suffering and wars fought in order for women to wear something that symbolizes their desirability. Wedding and engagement rings symbolize societal expectations, status and possession. People marry for varied reasons: love (of course); companionship; financial security; fear to be alone; to have a family and check off the societal expectations to-do list. The novel’s strength lies in its feminist meditation on relationships.

Wealthy, near-retirement Evelyn and Gerald met during college in the late 1920s–he a Harvard student from a wealthy family, she a Wellesley scholarship student. Gerald’s best friend, also Evelyn’s first husband, who died in WWII connects them. Financially struggling Sheila and James married when Sheila became pregnant. Sullivan writes: “Her friends, who she had felt so superior to back then, had seen their average-looking husbands grown into men with money and power, the sort of guys who took them to the Bahamas for an anniversary, or out to dinner in town every Friday night. And what did Sheila have? The formerly handsome teenager who failed to live up to his potential.”

Parisian Delphine married her friend and much-older business partner Henri, settling into a comfortable, passionless marriage that pushes her toward an affair. Describing Delphine, Sullivan writes: “It was absurd that she had not had a boyfriend to speak of since university, and that boyfriend was now married with two children, and living in a vineyard in Bordeaux, while she still managed to get her heart broken every year or so; she was a hopeless romantic with a taste for unkind men. It was absurd that she was thirty-three and yet still unsure about what to do with her life.”

Kate and her husband live together with their daughter and no intention to marry. Of Kate, Sullivan writes: “She hated the way a bride would raise up her bouquet in victory after saying “I do,” as if she had just accomplished something. She hated that even normal-sized women dieted for their weddings so they looked like bobble-head versions of themselves. She hated all the money thrown into some dark hole, when it could have been put to good use in a million other ways.”

The novel zigzags back and forth through various time frames as well as from couple to couple. The time shifts could be smoother. I found myself looking back to the beginning of chapters to recall which decade I was in when it should be obvious. When a few characters finally interact it’s rather choppy. It gets a tad confusing with so many characters but there’s a character for every reader. For me, I appreciated Kate as well as Delphine.

Sullivan excels at creating vivid characters and situations which engulf readers from page to page. Her writing reflects hot button topics– gay marriage, feminism, blood diamonds, cohabitation, affairs– in a smart manner without alienating anyone. It’s a well-written, thoughtful and engaging read.

RATING: ****/5

ps. Reese Witherspoon purchased the book rights so read this before it becomes a film!

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Random House.

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book review: I Don’t Care About Your Band

Title: I Don’t Care about Your Band
Author: Julie Klausner
ISBN: 978-1592405619
Pages: 272
Publisher: Gotham (February 2, 2010)
Category: memoir
Review source: publisher
Rating: 4.5/5

And there are so many guys. I remember the first time a friend referred to a guy I liked as a “man,” and I made a face like I was asking Willis what he was talkin’ ‘bout. A man is hard to find, good or otherwise, but guys are everywhere. That’s why girls go nuts for Don Draper on Mad Men. If that show was called Mad Guys, it might star Joe Pesci, and nobody wants to see that.

But I know way more women than girls. There’s a whole generation of us who rode on the wings of feminism’s entitlement like it was a Pegasus with cornrows, knowing how smart we were and how we could be anything. The problem is that we ended up at the mercy of a generation of guys who don’t quite seem to know what’s expected of them, whether it’s earning a double income or texting someone after she blows you. And that sort of sucks when you want a boyfriend. There are no more traditions or standards, and manners are like cleft chins or curly hair—they only run in some families.

I Don’t Care about Your Band delivers amusing, maddening, melancholy, and extremely relatable stories about her hook-ups and dates with complete honesty, self-effacing humor and rawness that make you want to be author Julie Klausner’s galpal. Julie, a writer [her writing has appeared at, in The New York Times, in New York Magazine on-line among others], actress, and comedian [who worked as a staff writer for VH1’s Best Week Ever] and has also performed with the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. Using her writing skill and comedic timing, she may have written the best break-up/relationship book I’ve ever read. Julie writes in a conversational style and throws in pop-culture references. I’m older than Julie and I was a late-bloomer sexually, but [I know my mom is reading this] I made up for lost time and it is okay for women to have fun sexually. Men have been doing it for decades. A woman is entitled to one-night-stands as much as men are but that does not mean that women also do not want to find caring, wonderful boyfriends. So how far is too far on a first date or when you first meet someone and want him to call again? It’s such a balancing act for women. For men, no problems. No rules. Because you know most guys will take advantage and push you as far as they can go. He’s got boobs and a vagina in front of him.

I Don’t Care about Your Band stands apart from other “relationship” books because Julie talks with few boundaries and many details about sex with every type of guy imaginable. Julie also dishes about what happens before and the aftermath and her feelings about the entire experience. She tells it like it is just like any good Jewish New York woman does. Yes, once you pick it up, settle in because you will not want to put this winning and refreshing memoir down. Julie discusses her childhood and how she was Daddy’s little girl and that he took her to Broadway shows. She also admires Miss Piggy’s gusto though was confused by Kermit’s rather lukewarm attraction to her [weren’t we all?]. She learned early that you give a guy a blow job and you aren’t getting anything in return [have we EVER heard of a case of boys going down on girls in the back of a school bus anywhere?]. We both found our gay friend. And she had a crush on Mike Nesmith [the turtleneck-wearing Monkee and not Davy Jones]. Check. We have SO much in common. She too strongly disliked the advice of The Rules [“that shrill creed designed to make women feel bad about their own desires…”]. And then we got the equally banal He’s Just Not That Into You [‘which provide women the tremendous relief of knowing that they were simply not terribly liked by the objects of their affections’], and to my appall, received an hour of attention on Oprah.

My advice to women who are habitually gravitated towards musicians is that they learn how to play an instrument and start making music themselves. Not only will they see that it’s not that hard, but sometimes I think women just want to be what it is they think they want to sleep with.

Some of the experiences chronicled in I Don’t Care About Your Band: Colin, the vegan heavy metal band guy who wants to do snowballing [see Clerks for clarification] for starters; Rob, the actor, who fears showing her his apartment so they spend all their time at hers [he’s nine years older than her] and he never wants to be seen in public with her; Greg, “the ugliest person” Julie has ever had sex with; Josh, the rather low-key porn-industry guy who used sex toys on her; another rocker named Jonathan, a fan of Julie’s [he made her meet her at his place in Brooklyn]; Alistair, an ex-con she met in an adult-ed writing class she was teaching. He made her split the check! ON HER BIRTHDAY! Tacky. And he had a small penis. Of course, Julie elaborates on all these guys in I Don’t Care About Your Band. I don’t want to give it away and spoil your reading.

But I only know that kind of peace since I’ve given myself a break. All of a sudden, at some point, it became no longer necessary to punish myself for every transgression I made, like eating candy before noon or not writing a feature screenplay every week. Once I rid myself of the chemicals in my brain that canceled out patience with anger, I could start making more informed choices about what makes me feel good and whom I allow to make me feel bad. I other words, I could start liking myself. And I began letting myself like people who have that in common with me.

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