Landline: A Review

Landline by Rainbow RowellGeorgie McCool knows her marriage is floundering. She knows her husband Neal is unhappy. But they’ve been floundering for a while. And hasn’t Neal always been at least a little unhappy?

She still loves Neal. And Neal still loves her. But that isn’t the point. When Neal takes their daughters to Omaha for Christmas, Georgie wonders if that was ever the point.

Floundering without her husband and daughters, Georgie tries to throw herself into work as a TV writer in Los Angeles. After all, that’s why she stayed behind in the first place. But she doesn’t want to go home to an empty house. She can’t focus when so much of her life is somewhere else.

Then Georgie uses the landline at her mother’s house to try and call Neal. Finally, he answers. But it isn’t Georgie’s Neal. Not really. Instead she’s talking to Neal in the past–at the one other moment their relationship fell apart, almost before it started. With a chance to correct past mistakes, Georgie wonders if the right answer this time is holding Neal tight (the way she always does) or finally letting him go in Landline (2014) by Rainbow Rowell.

Rainbow Rowell is an incredibly talented writer who covers a range of subjects in her novels. Landline uses the lens of a marriage on the brink to tell the story of Georgie and Neal. Flashbacks follow their relationship from the day they met through significant moments including their wedding, the birth of their daughters and other stickier points including an almost breakup and Neal’s proposal (both of which become pivotal to the plot).

While a magic phone (or a mental-breakdown-hallucination depending on your outlook) plays a key role in the story, there isn’t enough foundation to call this novel a fantasy. While Georgie contemplates issues with time travel and the implications therein, nothing is ever really explained. Georgie and Neal’s entire relationship is imbued with a certain sense of inevitability that allows issues of causality, and whether or not time travel is at play, to be glossed over.

This is a novel for an adult audience with characters in their thirties. Die-hard Rowell fans will still find a lot to love here, but teen readers (or readers like myself who are not married with kids even) may find it a stretch to get into the same head space as Georgie. That said, things pick up immensely in the second half of the novel. Even with the slow start, I finished this book in a couple of days.

Landline is often quite sweet and romantic. There are several moments with very grand gestures. The main problem with the final grand gesture is that it suggests Georgie has to choose between her marriage and her work. The entire structure of the story (from Georgie’s breakdown and lack of focus when Neal takes the girls to Omaha to the final big moment) suggests that is impossible to balance both. While that is fine and allowed, I would have liked more balance to show that while it is hard there is room for both work and love.

The other problem is that all of those grand gestures lead to exactly zero closure. We never learn what will happen with Georgie’s show–the one she stayed in LA to work on in the first place. We never see if the unresolved issues with Seth and Neal hating each other will shake out. And even though the novel ends on an up note, very few of the fundamental problems with Neal and Georgie’s relationship are actually fixed. They are both present and they both still care, but we (and perhaps they) still don’t know if that will be enough.

Rowell’s writing is as vibrant and literary as ever in Landline. (Readers familiar with Rowell’s work will recognize common themes popping up and even some familiar characters.) The dialogue and observations here are snappy and move the novel along at a fierce pace from one intricately-plotted vignette to the next. While Rowell’s voice is always inevitably behind Georgie’s narration in Landline, it is a good voice with many things to say.

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