In The Engagements, a novel about popping (or not popping) the question, J. Courtney Sullivan pulls off a rare feat: creating characters so real you feel like you’ve known them for years. Sullivan gives life to five protagonists, deftly weaving their separate struggles with love and devotion into a gripping narrative that spans decades and lays bare the joys and perils of marriage.
In this essay exclusive to the Reading Group Center, Jennifer Close—whose own second novel, The Smart One, was recently released in Vintage trade paperback—explores her ongoing relationship with Sullivan’s unforgettable characters and declares her love for The Engagements!
When I first got engaged, I couldn’t stop looking at my ring. I held out my hand, staring at it as I walked, wrote, read. My now-husband told me that he worried I was going to trip and break a bone or get hit by a car because I never looked in front of me. I couldn’t help it—it was so pretty! Thankfully, after a few weeks, I got used to wearing a diamond and was able to walk and otherwise go about my life like a normal person, looking around me instead of at my ring finger.
However, after I read The Engagements by Courtney Sullivan, I found myself once again staring at my engagement ring all day long. But this time, I wasn’t just admiring it—I was thinking of Frances Gerety, the woman who coined the phrase, “A Diamond is Forever;” I was thinking of the rings that are passed down through families, about the stories that they hold; I was thinking about marriage equality; I was thinking of all the women who wanted a diamond ring and all of those who would refuse to ever wear one. I was thinking about love and weddings and bridezillas and divorce and heartbreak and revenge.
For me, that is the sign of a truly great novel—when the story sticks in your head, when the characters feel so alive that you think of them long after you’ve put down the book. I’ve demanded that all of my friends read this book immediately, and I’ve told strangers in bookstores to buy it. I tell them it’s a story that they will love, that they won’t be able to put it down. And I also tell them that even now, months after reading The Engagements, I still find myself staring at my ring and thinking about Kate, Delphine, Frances, Evelyn, and James.