Cover image for Otherwise engaged
Otherwise engaged
Finnamore, Suzanne.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1999.
Physical Description:
209 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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"What nobody tells you about getting engaged is he asks you and you're delirious for about two days and then it tapers. He asks you and you're running around telling grocery clerks and ordering subscriptions to bride magazines and discussing prong settings versus suspension settings, and then after two days this ebullience passes. It is no longer conceptual; you have the whole wedding to plan and from that moment on the pressure builds.   "The ebullience comes back, two days before the wedding. The boomerang effect. Something else no one tells you about. "They should parachute this information into the major cities."   For every woman who has ever dreamed of getting married or survived the pre-wedding hell of planning the big day; for every man who has ever watched in horror as the woman he loves mutates into a bride-to-be--a wickedly funny first novel about the excruciating ritual otherwise known as modern marriage. Michael has finally asked Eve to marry him. It is tempting to believe that everything is going according to plan. But from her first anxiety-producing en- counter withModern Bridemagazine to setting a date ("My impression is that if you don't set a date, they stone you"), finding a dress, ordering invitations ("I don't want the plain envelopes. I want the white go-go boots. Everyone else has them"), and the unrelenting chaos of life in the world beyond the wedding, from the fights and resentment ("For eighteen months I rubbed his back and made him soup and performed really sincere fellatio and now I'm tired") to the disconcerting realization that lately when she looks at her fiance she hears the striking of a Chinese gong and the words FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE echoing through her head, Eve discovers that planning a wedding is fraught with unexpected perils, and it's a long walk to the altar. Otherwise Engagedis a wry, deliciously caustic ride through the outsized rituals of an American wedding, and a hilarious portrait of what happens to an otherwise rational, intelligent woman when she begins to plan one.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Two first novels from the same publisher achieve equal success but in far different manners. Draper's is the far darker of the two, although a strong vein of humor runs through it. It's a story based on an I'll-scratch-your-back-if-you-scratch-mine premise. Readers find themselves in the little hardscrabble East Texas community of Shepherdsville, a one-industry town centered on the local penitentiary. Hadrian Coleman, a local boy, began doing time when he was a teenager, but by manhood, he had escaped and was on the lam. Now, Hadrian returns to Shepherdsville to claim the pardon papers he's been offered by the prison director, who has been a friend of his since they were boys. Ah, yes, as Hadrian might have guessed, there are strings attached to his pardon; however, even he couldn't have guessed the depths to which he must sink in order to honor those strings, which entail killing the director's enemies. Atmosphere plays as strong a role here as any of the characters, but that is certainly no criticism of Draper's admirable ability to populate his compelling novel with vibrant characters. Finnamore has a touch of Irma Bombeck and a pinch of Nora Ephron, but her voice is sharply original. Her novel is very funny and right on the money as she follows the 12-month engagement of the narrator, a 35-year-old woman who lives in San Francisco and works in the advertising business. She and her fiancehave been living together for awhile when the question is popped, and life takes a new turn. Chapter by chapter, month by month, the reader tracks, with hilarity but at the same time recognizing the truth of all her feelings, the progression of her reactions to impending marital security/entrapment. Finnamore's humor is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face ("I enjoy hearing men sleep. It's a shame they can't do more of it, or even occasionally lapse into a mini-coma, and the women would get to be free for a few days"). Readers won't be able to resist finding out if the wedding actually comes off. Knopf is certainly looking for love with a 75,000 copy first printing. Promote both these novels to appreciators of good literary reads. --Brad HooperAdult Books

Publisher's Weekly Review

Starting where Bridget Jones's Diary and Animal Husbandry left off, Finnamore's debut novel humorously chronicles one woman's life of limbo, now that she's achieved an engagement ring: "He didn't kneel. It's unlikely that I would marry someone who did. From then on, I would live in fear of Whitman Samplers." Narrator and ad-writer Eve, 36, finally maneuvers a proposal from her boyfriend, Michael. But she immediately panics, wondering if she can survive the pressure without losing her mind, her man, or both. Will Eve make it to the altar despite an invasive mother-in-law, the death of a dear high school friend, job woes and her fever-pitch anxiety? Now she's noticing many divorced couples, hoarding her Valium and squabbling constantly with Michael with a ferocity that reminds her of "two grouchy morbid orangutans in a small cage at a testing facility." Eve has a distinctively wry, endearingly comical voice, able to speak bluntly and incisively when examining her neuroses, and to mock her hysteria with deadpan wit. Toward the novel's end, her wedding blues may begin to jangle readers' nerves, however; her observations remain fresh, but one wishes that she'd get a grip, and the sooner the better. But her energetically told story, set in a vibrantly realized San Francisco, should appeal to anyone who can appreciate a cool, clever intelligence capable of discerning the zaniness of the purgatory known as engagement. 75,000 first printing; author tour. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



He did it. I said yes and checked my watch. 7:22 p.m. I sneak a pen out of my purse and write the time down on the palm of my hand, in what I hope is a nonchalant fashion. I am excited and at the same time I feel there is a possibility of an inquiry. He didn't kneel. It's unlikely I would marry someone who did. From then on, I would live in fear of Whitman's Samplers. Tandem bicycles. Someone who knelt would need me to give up my name and bake pies while his aging mother cried out in pain from the next room. Exhilaration. Also something darker: a sense of triumph. It is primal, furtive; my ovaries cracking cheap champagne. I win. Those two words; that's exactly how I feel. Happy, but not in an I Knew It All Along way. Definitely in a Contestant Who Has Won in the Final Round Despite Major Setbacks way. And the Harvard professors who say a woman is as likely to be married after thirty-five as to be abducted by terrorists? May they fall into open manholes, where hard-body lesbians with blowtorches await them. I am thirty-six years of age. I need to write it all down. Exactly what was said, exactly what happened. It all began Sunday morning. I woke up and heard him padding around the kitchen of our San Francisco flat: making coffee, unfolding his New York Times. Sun dappled the crisp two-hundred-thread-count cotton sheets. Outside the bedroom window, two finches nuzzled on a branch. In the kitchen, Molly O'Neill was freeing kumquats from their humdrum lives. At that moment I decided it probably wasn't going to get any better than this. The free introductory trial period was over. He brought in my coffee, murmuring the theme song from Goldfinger. "Goldfinger . . . he's the man, the man with the Midas touch . . . the spider's touch." He was planning his day. It was going to be a day like any other. It would be free of confrontation, conflict, or commitment, anything that could remotely lead to a subpoena. Michael is what his therapist calls change averse. The survivor of a bitter divorce, which he refers to simply as The Unpleasantness. The day he had planned was going to include me, but it was going to revolve around him. Just a nice Sunday is what he would have called it. It was my task to set the earth spinning the other way. I took his hand, and said, "You know what?" Pleasantly, as though I had some interesting good news to share with him. "You need to decide about us. Now." He tensed, his eyes flitting around the room. A paperboy caught in the grip of a mad clown. There ensued a period of silence. He stared past my right shoulder, transfixed by a point just outside the present. He had decided to go blank. I cataloged events for him, since he was so bad with time. "We've known each other three years. We've been living together six months." I asserted that I wasn't going to be like Gabrielle, the hair model who lived with him for four years and got the Samsonite luggage. "I love you," I said. "But I can't just stay in limbo." What's wrong with limbo? I heard him thinking. Limbo is fantastic. "Especially if we want to have children," I said. His face went white. He had understood that one word, "children." Ten years ago his first wife, Grace, left him and moved to Vermont along with Michael's three-year-old daughter, Phoebe. Every year, Michael cries on her birthday. Phoebe calls her stepfather Daddy, and Michael, Michael. "I understand if you can't move forward," I said. Beat. Sip of coffee. Sad smile. "But I have to." I added that if he didn't marry me, he would probably end up alone. A few meaningless and shallow affairs with a certain type. "Users," I said. "Women who don't want a commitment." His face, I thought, lit up. "An old man in a rocking chair," I said. "Eating Dinty Moore beef stew out of cans." This is what he eats when I am gone. This and corn. Michael turned forty-four last July. Together we are about a hundred. "We're meant to be together," I said. "But if not you, I'll move on and find someone else." I wondered how many women were lying that same lie at that exact moment. In truth he would have to blast me out with dynamite, just like Gabrielle. Holding on to the front doorjamb with the tips of my fingers and screaming. Hooking my feet around the wrought-iron banister. He said he would think it over. The fact that he had to think it over made me want to cry and break things. I looked out the window. The birds were gone. "I guess I always knew it would come to this," he pronounced, deadpan. He slumped quietly out the door and I heard his motorcycle start up. I looked out the window as he drove away. He had his full-face Shoei helmet on. He looked like a large blue-headed beetle, moving away at high speed. The way he was going, one might think he would never return. But just like the little rubber ball attached to the toy paddle with a long elastic string and a single staple, he has to come back. All his things are here. When he returned four hours later we both pretended it hadn't happened. I roasted a chicken; we ate it in front of 60 Minutes. I commented on how fine Ed Bradley looked. How tall and sleek, like a panther. Michael is five foot nine, Caucasian. Serial dreams of being in the NBA. The following day he left for an overnight business trip to Colorado. The timing was impeccable. One night to think things over, to imagine a world without a sun. That night he called me from his hotel in Denver, saying there was something he wanted to talk about when he got back. Code word: "Something." "Have a safe trip home," I said. "Darling." I hung up and made reservations at the Lark Creek Inn in Marin. Chef Bradley Ogden, home of the eighteen-dollar appetizer. That night I sleep fitfully. I am what my mother used to call overexcited. I think about what if the plane crashes and he never gets to ask me. I will tell people he did, I decide. I felt extremely focused. The next day, Tuesday. He comes home around four in the afternoon. He actually runs to the kitchen, to find me. He loves me, I am thinking. Also: Baby, you are going DOWN. We embrace. His skin feels cool, as though he had flown home without the airplane. He has on a thick moss-green plaid flannel shirt which he has purchased in Santa Fe, probably in a Western store with a wooden Indian outside. It soothed him, buying that shirt. I can see that. At six we dress for dinner in silence. I watch him. And when I see him pull his gray suit out of the armoire, I know. It's not his best suit, but it's my favorite. Single-breasted. With the suit, he puts on his black merino-wool sweater. Another clue. A simple shirt would've been one thing. Or a black knit tee. The black tee would say, I'm sporty but not serious. It would say, I know how to wear a tee shirt with a suit, I'm a good catch. Try and catch me. The merino sweater has a collar and three neat buttons. It says, I'm caught. And I'm taking it like a man. I wear a black sheer-paneled skirt and a long knit jacket from my first trip to Paris. Black hose, black heels. I put on my earrings with my eyes still on him. I hook the wire through the hole, blind. We drive across the Golden Gate Bridge without speaking. Black Saab, top down. I'm wearing a velvet hat and dark sunglasses. We are listening to the jazz station. This would make a good commercial, is what I'm thinking. Also I am wondering how I am going to live if he doesn't ask. We would have to break up immediately, tonight. This instant. My mind flips back and forth, a fish on the deck. We arrive and valets grab the keys from his hand, open doors. Once inside, we are quickly seated. Time is speeding up, not slowing down as in emergencies. Table in the corner. The perfect table, I am thinking. Now he has to ask me. The center tables are ambiguous. The corner tables are definite. They pour the wine. He tastes it, nodding. He orders our food; I let him. I can't feel my legs. There is a long, flesh-eating silence. And then he says, "So what should we do?" "About what?" I ask, caressing the stem of my glass. I am going to make this as difficult as possible for him, I don't know why. There seem to be bonus points involved. "You know what," he says. He has a wide, strange smile, like a maniac who is about to reveal that he is strapped full of Plastique explosives. "What what?" I ask. Now I am smiling too. I can't help it. "Maybe we should get engaged." He says it. "Maybe we should," I say. I take a long slow sip of wine. I have seen our cat, Cow Kitty, whom we call the Cow for short, do this to bees. First he stuns them and then he watches them die. "Do I have to do it now?" Michael asks. He sees the waiter headed toward us, a large tray held expertly overhead. He  has ordered the Yankee Flatiron Pot Roast, with baby vegetables. $28.95. "Can't we wait until after?" he says. "No. You have to ask me now," I say. The pot roast is an incentive, making sure it's hot when he eats it. I'll get this out of the way, he's thinking, and then there will be pot roast. "Will you marry me?" he says. "Yes," I say. We kiss. People around us continue to eat. It seems there should be something else, but there isn't. It's just a question, after all. Five words, including the answer. The pot roast arrives and he eats it all. I barely touch my cod; it is impossibly pale. I can see the plate through it. It occurs to me that I may be dreaming. I pinch my arm. Excerpted from Otherwise Engaged by Suzanne Finnamore All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.