Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Title Landline
Author Rainbow Rowell
Published July 8th, 2014 by St. Martin’s Press
Pages 308 Pages
Intended Target Audience Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Romance, Magical Realism
Part of a Series? No
Source & Format Received a finished copy from the publisher for review (Thanks St. Martin’s Press!), Hardcover
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChapters

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems besides the point now.

Maybe that was always besides the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

“There’s a magic phone in my childhood bedroom. I can use it to call my husband in the past. (My husband who isn’t my husband yet. My husband who maybe shouldn’t be my husband at all.)
There’s a magic phone in my childhood bedroom. I unplugged it this morning and hid it in the closet.
Maybe all the phones in the house are magic.
Or maybe I’m magic. Temporarily magic. (Ha! Time travel pun!)
Does it count as time travel?
There’s a magic phone hidden in my closet. And I think it’s connected to the past. And I think I’m supposed to fix something. I think I’m supposed to make something right.”

What is it that they say? “Love is patient”? Kind? Unconditional? For thousands of years countless theologians, scholars, philosophers, and artists around the world have sought to define the one thing that unites the otherwise unique human experience. And while all of the above might be true, in the case of married couple Georgie McCool and Neal Grafton, after fourteen years of marriage and two children, if there’s one thing they know for certain about love, it’s this: That is isn’t easy. After years spent toiling away on a series of passionless writing assignments for television shows she neither believed in nor took pride in, it seems as though Georgie’s big break has finally come when she and her writing partner and lifelong best friend, Seth, are offered the opportunity to pitch their personal pet project, Passing Time, to the network. The only catch? They’ll have to work through the Christmas holidays in order to get it all done in time. What begins ostensibly as unavoidable time apart as Georgie remains behind in Los Angeles to work on the scripts while Neal takes their children to visit his parents in Omaha for Christmas soon threatens to become a much more serious and permanent separation. Long-seeded, unspoken resentments and complacency have worked to erode the once-stable foundation of their marriage and it will take more than a little bit of magic to help them reclaim what they once had. Little do Georgie and Neal know that help is only one phone call away…

“There were moments when it stared to rise up on her, what was happening. What she had access to, real or not. Neal. 1998. The immensity of it – the improbability – kept creeping up the back of Georgie’s skull like dizziness, and she kept shaking it off.
It was like getting him back. Her Neal. (Her old Neal.)
He was right there, and she could ask him anything that she wanted.
“Tell me more about the mountains,” Georgie said, because she wasn’t really sure what to ask. Because “tell me where I went wrong” might break the spell.
And because what she wanted more than anything else was just to keep listening.”

On the surface, Landline is not the sort of novel I would ordinarily gravitate toward. In fact, in the past it’s one I’ve often actively gone out of my way to avoid. There are no shortage of stories about broken marriages, disillusionment and estrangement in the contemporary adult fiction genre and, given their lack of relevance to my own life, as well as my general lack of interest in this subject matter, are not stories I often choose to read. But if there’s one author whose work could inspire me to step outside of my literary comfort zone and challenge myself to read something I ordinarily wouldn’t, it’s Rainbow Rowell. After being nothing short of enchanted by my previous two experiences with Rowell’s prior work, Attachments and Fangirl, Rowell’s next foray into the adult contemporary romance genre, Landline, quickly became one of my most anticipated 2014 releases. Thankfully, it did not disappoint. An unconventional love story of pugs and punchlines, C-sections and second chances, landlines and lost connections, Rainbow Rowell’s latest tells the poignant tale of a marriage on the brink and the couple who will go to any lengths to save it.

“That was when she added Neal to the list of things she wanted and needed and was bound to have someday. That’s when she decided that Neal was the person who was going to drive on those overnight road trips. And Neal was the one who was going to sit next to her at the Emmys.
He kissed her like he was drawing a perfectly straight line.
He kissed her in India ink.
That’s when Georgie decided, during that cocksure kiss, that Neal was what she needed to be happy.”

Georgie McCool is a woman who has always known exactly what she wanted. To write. To make people laugh. To create her own television show. To have children. For Neal, however, the future has always seemed less certain. Never one who was adept at knowing what he wanted or making those big decisions that would determine the trajectory of his future, Neal has pursued everything from oceanography to the Peace Corps, none with any great deal of success. All that Neal ever truly wanted was Georgie. So, when Georgie is reluctant to place their children in daycare, it seemed only natural that Neal remain home with the Alice and Noomi while Georgie continue to support the family. Unfortunately, what begins as a simple solution soon seems anything but as Georgie’s nights at work grow later and the two drift slowly apart, veritable strangers living side by side in the same house. When something is broken, our first inclination is to fix it. To identify the problem and come up with a viable solution. So, when faced with the precarious state of Georgie and Neal’s marriage, it’s natural to want to assign blame. Part of what makes Landline so interesting, however, are the complexity of Rowell’s characters. Opinions about Georgie and Neal have been as vast as they have been varied. Georgie has been called everything from a self-absorbed egotist determined to put her needs above all else to a dedicated and intelligent career woman who, like so many of us, is simply trying to ‘have it all’. Likewise, Neal has been accused of being everything from a selfish saboteur determined to spoil Georgie’s dreams to a self-sacrificing martyr who has given up everything to support his family. Of course, as in life, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, painted in wonderful, complicated shades of grey. Of the two, Georgie is undoubtedly the character who is given the most development and with whom the audience becomes most familiar, largely because the story is told from her perspective. That said, the conversations Georgie holds with Neal in 1998 provide tantalizing glimpses into his past and personality as well, which allows the reader to better connect with and understand this otherwise inscrutable man of few words and fantastic dimples.

“…They’d never gone this long without talking. Not since they’d met. Well, practically not since they’d met.
It’s not that things were always…(What word was she looking for? Hunky-dory? Smooth? Happy?) It’s not that things were always…easy between Georgie and Neal.
Sometimes, even when they were talking, they weren’t really talking. Sometimes they were just negotiating each other. Keeping each other posted.
But it had never been like this before. Radio silence.
There’d always been his voice.
Georgie would feel better if she could hear Neal’s voice.”

While the words ‘magical telephone’ would be enough to pique anyone’s interest and raise more than a few eyebrows, I was more interested in Georgie’s landline telephone as a relic of a bygone era. While it can be difficult to remember in today’s age of cellphones, Twitter, and all manner of instant communication, Georgie’s yellow landline transports not only her, but the reader as well, back to a different time when making a phone call was an event, a visceral experience. I can still remember making telephone calls on my own landline as a teenager, pressing my mouth against the receiver and coiling the cord around my fingers, pausing with a mixture of nerves and anticipation as I waited to see who would pick up on the other end of the phone. It was a time when the act of making or waiting for a phone call was as exciting and important as the phone call itself. Between this and Rowell’s inclusion of a plethora of evocative pop culture references including everything from M*A*S*H to Mork & Mindy, Crayola Caddies to the Unabomber, Landline is a nostalgic tether to a past that we look back on with equal fondness and disdain. Returning to Rowell’s use of the landline as a surreal ‘time travel’ device that allows Georgie to revisit past conversations with a much younger Neal, this aspect of the story was well executed and nimbly avoided the pitfalls of what could otherwise have proven to be a confusing, convoluted narrative device in the hands of a less talented author. It allows the reader to better invest in their relationship and also provides an interesting contrast, demonstrating both how the dynamics in Georgie and Neal’s relationship have shifted in some respects and remained the same in others. Finally, it raises some interesting moral and ethical dilemmas. Was Georgie given this ability for a reason? If you could change something in your past, would you? Should you? Is love alone enough to sustain a relationship? Understandably, much has been made about Georgie’s surreal, inexplicable window into the past, but I think the true magic lies not in the yellow landline in her childhood bedroom, but in the love shared between Georgie and Neal. And Georgie and Seth. And Georgie and Heather. And Georgie and Noomi and Alice. In short? The true magic is in Rainbow Rowell’s writing. Truly great writing is able to transcend the differences between a reader and a story’s characters, allowing the audience to connect with a character in spite of a lack of personal experience. One does not need to have been abandoned to understand loneliness. One does not need to have been married to appreciate the intricacies of sustaining a longterm relationship. No matter the situation, Rowell crafts characters and human connections that are undeniably true, even when that truth is heart-wrenching, raw and complicated.

“You don’t know when you’re twenty-three.
You don’t know what it really means to crawl into someone else’s life and stay there. You can’t see all the ways you’re going to get tangled, how you’re going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten – in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.
She didn’t know at twenty-three.”

Successfully recapturing the magic first achieved in her prior adult publication, Attachments and again in her touching young adult masterpiece, Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell has no doubt done it again. Landline is an unconventional love story that pulls back the curtain and examines a relationship long after the music has swelled, the credits have rolled, and the couple have walked hand-in-hand into the sunset, embarking on their inevitable happily ever after. Even when the end result is sometimes anything but. A novel composed of false starts and grand gestures, quiet triumphs and crushing defeats, Rainbow Rowell has made all the right calls in a quirky, modern love story that will force you to question what you would do for those you care for most. After all, as Huey Lewis once prophetically sang, that’s the power of love.

Still not sure this is the right book for you? Why not listen to what some other bloggers had to say about it?

● Jo @ Once Upon A Bookcase wrote “I am writing this review because I feel I owe it to Rainbow Rowell. As a thank you. Because Landline is unbelievable, in the best possible way.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

● Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings wrote “Ultimately, Landline works beautifully as a novel that showcases the realities of marriage past the honeymoon phase but aspects of this story failed to resonate with me as much as I’d have liked.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

● Vilma @ Vilma’s Book Blog wrote “Fans of the author will enjoy the relatable moments of both young and adult relationships, as well as the wit and quirkiness that Rowell undoubtedly injects into this contemporary story about the reality of love and marriage…and a “magical fucking phone.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

4 Responses

  1. Beautiful review, Jen. I admit that going into Landline, I was apprehensive because, first, this is the first of Rainbow’s work that I’ve read, and secondly, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to relate to it seeing as I’m not married and working and I don’t have children. But like you said, you didn’t have to be: it is so relatable despite all this. I often found myself nodding along and drawing parallels between Georgie and Neal’s marriage with my own long-term relationship with my partner, recognising thoughts and worries and concerns I’ve had myself. In a way, that was frightening but also so very comforting too.
    Nikki @ The Paper Sea recently posted…WoW (38): Heir of FireMy Profile

  2. Landline was really, really good! Even though it’s always hard to read about love and marriage that is currently going through a rough time/crisis, I also find it fascinating to see what the characters will do. It often feels like a real struggle married people face, and I like that reading these stories lets me experience various options or outcomes. Glad you wound up enjoying this!
    Alexa S. recently posted…Behind the Scenes: On OrganizationMy Profile

  3. The premise of this one was to say the LEAST.. intriguing. I have ONLY read Attachments by Rainbow and ADORED it.. I think for some reason her adult novels resonate with me more plot wise. I had no interest really in E&P or Fangirl, so giving this one a go will be interesting. I was fortunate enough to get an Audiobook copy of it from a friend, so I can’t wait to listen and discuss with you!
    Cassie recently posted…TTT: Books Im Not Sure AboutMy Profile

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Hi! I’m Jen! I’m a thirty-something introvert who loves nothing more than the cozy comfort of home and snuggling my two rescue cats, Pepper and Pancakes. I also enjoy running, jigsaw puzzles, baking and everything Disney. Few things bring me more joy than helping a reader find the right book for them!