The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan
Engagements by J Courtney Sullivan A couple of summers ago we all read a book by J. Courtney Sullivan titled Maine. It was the story of a family, with most of the action taking place at their summer home in Maine. As family members come and go old and new conflicts are revealed. It was a good read and one that we still recommend each summer. J. Courtney Sullivan’s new novel The Engagements is a big step up from Maine, told with the confident voice of a writer who has come of age. The Engagements is a novel with a broader range in both language and story than her earlier work.
We enter the story, in 1947, with Frances, a copywriter for the advertising agency N.W. Ayer, their main client is the diamond company De Beers. Frances in real life, and in this novel, pens the famous line “A Diamond is Forever”. It is post World War II and the returning soldiers are getting married – and it is the job of Ayer’s to convince them that it is essential that each man place a diamond on the finger of his future bride. Of course it is also important to keep those diamonds selling, so how about an upgrade to a bigger stone on their 10th Anniversary? The history of the advertising of diamonds is much more fascinating than I could ever have imagined. Although it leaves one with a funny feeling about that diamond ring – not having quite realized I’d been so manipulated into desiring and acquiring one.
Then we meet Evelyn and Gerald, a long married couple with a disappointing son. By 1972, Gerald is retired, and he and Evelyn are expecting their son to arrive at their home for lunch. We learn about their youth, how they met and came to be married. The back-story of their lives is slowly revealed until we come back to the day where we began.
James and Sheila, are next. It is1987 and they are struggling to support their family. James works as a Paramedic, stressed beyond reason and sleep deprived, doing his best but feeling that it is never enough. While Sheila tries to hold it all together at home and her own job.
We enter the new millennium in Paris, where we meet Delphine, a young woman who until now has lived a sheltered life. She marries and works with her husband. It is not until an exciting younger man comes along that she feels alive and risks it all for a chance at a new life.
Then it is 2012 and we are preparing for the wedding party of Toby and Jeff. We’ve come a long way since the Second World War. The families gather, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives, and children. This will be an over-the-top wedding and although there are some who think it is all way too much they share in the joy of the couple about to marry.
Of course diamonds feature in all of these stories, the importance of that diamond ring woven through each time and place. Somehow it all works so perfectly. There was not a character that I did not come to care about – we want things to be good for each one of them. The movement forward in time re-visiting each couple as they also move forward works perfectly – a beautifully orchestrated symphony coming to a fine climax at the end.