Note: I received a copy of Landline from the publisher for review consideration.
Two days before Christmas, Georgie tells her husband Neal that she can’t go with him and their two daughters to spend Christmas with his family in Omaha. A tremendous opportunity has come up for her and her writing partner, Seth, and they have to stay in L.A. and write six episodes of their new television show. After Neal leaves, Georgie begins to fear that she’s damaged her marriage beyond repair. But at her mother’s house, she finds that if she calls using her mother’s rotary phone, she can communicate with Neal in the past. Neal before they got married. And she wonders if she’s been given a second chance to make her marriage work.
Eleanor and Park is a romance novel that punches way, way above its weight. Fangirl is an exploration of fan culture and independence that ditto although not quite as consistently or strongly. Landline doesn’t do that. Landline punches its weight. Handily. But your expectations are different for an adult novel; or rather, your expectations are different for adults. When Rowell treats Georgie’s career and marriage and feelings as important, it doesn’t feel surprising, because adult careers are important and adult relationships can (though often don’t) last a lifetime.
I think this says something interesting about memory and childhood, though. I am wont to devalue the feelings I felt very strongly as a teenager. Like, oh Past Jenny was horribly insecure about her knees and cried when she put on a dress. What a dope. Now that I no longer feel that way, it’s very easy to see that feeling and think She was being histrionic. Which I was. For sure. But I think because we all go through that genre of problem, and overwhelmingly we figure out how to manage it, we can often look at teenagers and their teenager problems and see those problems as pre-solved, and thus less important and scary than the problems we are now currently facing as adults. Real, but real with an expiration date. Real but with lots of cushions and second chances. And very often, real but predictable: You are a teenager and you do not yet know [x information or life experience], and not only do you not know it, but you do not know how thoroughly you eventually will know it.
So I think when a young adult author writes (like Rainbow Rowell does) about young adult problems in a way that is utterly sincere but not histrionic, and makes those problems seem new, and you remember that while this was happening to you, it was everything, you respond to that differently. That is a harder trick to pull off.
But Landline is charming and lovable in its own way. If I hadn’t had expectations from Eleanor and Park, I’d probably have given it an extra star. Georgie and Neal and Georgie’s sister, Heather, who follows Georgie around the house badgering her with questions about her marriage, are all wonderful characters. And the phone conversations Georgie has with Past Neal, and her memories of meeting and falling in love with Past Neal — all quite lovely. I could see why they loved each other, and I could see why they had struggled to keep their marriage a happy one.
The end of the book doesn’t resolve any of this, exactly, which I liked. I liked it that the conclusion Georgie reaches is that she has to be more deliberate about her marriage, the way she’s deliberate about her work. She can’t give it half-effort and trust that it’ll still be there waiting for her. Sometimes, even when it means letting go of work stuff, she has to give it everything she’s got. (PS I was seriously worried that Georgie was going to get trapped in too-deep snow in that scene at the end, like that story my mother tells about being a kid and getting trapped in too-deep snow and thinking, This is the stupidest thing I have ever done, and this is how I’m going to die.)
A failing for me was that Seth, Georgie’s lifelong writing partner and best friend, and a major source of stress to her marriage, doesn’t ever come into focus. We don’t see him being funny with Georgie in the way that they say they’re funny together, and I just really didn’t know what the pith of their friendship was, without that. To me, they didn’t have the same rhythm back and forth that Georgie and Neal had, when by the rules of the book they should have had that far more, since they are the writing partners and Neal is the strong silent type.
Altogether, though, it was a dear of a book. Not Eleanor and Park dear, but a lovely read and one I enjoyed immensely.
They read it too: things mean a lot. Rhapsody in Books. Capricious Reader. Chrisbookarama. Good Books and Good Wine. Open Letters Monthly. Tor.com. And here’s Janet Maslin singing Landline’s praises for the New York Times. Tell me if I missed your review, and I’ll add a link!
If you’re an audiobook guy and you’re trying to decide whether to give Landline a try, check out a clip from the audiobook on SoundCloud, from Macmillan Audio!