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.

Eleanor & Park: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow RowellWhen Park sees Eleanor walk onto the bus, he can’t look away. She’s like some kind of elaborately decorated train wreck. Park has a very tenuous, very small bit of social status. He certainly doesn’t have any to waste on the crazy looking new girl.

Eleanor doesn’t want to be on the bus sitting next to the weird Asian kid even if he is the only one who will give her a seat. She doesn’t want to be at a new school. She definitely doesn’t want to be in the same house as Richie even if her mom swears things will be different this time. Eleanor doesn’t believe anything can really be different. Not for her. Not anymore.

At least they don’t have to talk to each other.

Reading the same comic doesn’t count as actually being friends. Neither does wanting to hold hands. Or sharing mix tapes and batteries. Eleanor and Park both remember that first moment on the bus. What they don’t understand is how they got from that first moment to a very different moment where no one else matters in Eleanor & Park (2012) by Rainbow Rowell.

Eleanor & Park is Rowell’s second novel. It is preceded by her adult debut The Attachments.

Set in Omaha in 1986, Eleanor & Park is technically a historical novel. I have wondered about the choice of time period,* and how it will appeal to actual teen readers, but at the end of the day it works. Rowell includes numerous references to the time including bands Eleanor and Park listen to, comics they read and more passing references to pop culture of the era.** I was born in 1986 and I caught about 98% of the references in this book. I’m not sure how younger readers would fair or if it would even be an issue to the overall reading experience.

Eleanor & Park is written in third person but it alternates between both Eleanor and Park’s point of view allowing readers to understand their changing relationship even faster than the characters themselves. Eleanor & Park is one of the most romantic books ever–without, I might add, really being a romance. Instead this book shares a snapshot of Park and Eleanor’s lives.

I’ve heard people call this book sad or even heartbreaking. And there are some terrible moments, especially with Eleanor’s circumstances becoming increasingly terrible. But there is also more than that as the story showcases smaller moments of happiness and hope. Ultimately, in addition to being a favorite read, Eleanor & Park is one of the most optimistic and hopeful books I’ve read this year.***

Rowell’s writing in Eleanor & Park is seamless as she weaves together the stories of an incredibly unlikely pair that is somehow incredibly right. If this book doesn’t get some attention during awards season I (along with most of the reading public) will be incredibly surprised.

*Rowell has a thoughtful post on her blog called “Why is Park Korean?” I never thought Park’s ethnicity was a big question–or something that should be questioned at all really–but that post does offer some insight into the choice of setting.

**My most favorite was an early reference to the Clint Eastwood movie Any Which Way But Loose. And of course Park’s dad looking like my favorite 1980s private investigator was excellent.

***Everyone has a different idea about three certain words at the end of the story. Personally, I am completely confident everything works out as it should.

Possible Pairings: Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, The Last True Love Story by Brendan Kiely, Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, Watchmen by Alan Moore, Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, The Beginning of Everything¬†by Robyn Schneider, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner