Publication date: July 8, 2014
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?
Landline is a book that envelops you in its characters and their failing relationship. Georgie and Neal are people you want to know, and want to cry for immediately. I tweeted to a book blogger friend that after reading eight pages, I needed to put the book down because it just felt too visceral, especially as my husband and I just had our one year anniversary. It’s not that the exact same thing was happening to me in real life – it’s that I could see myself having Georgie and Neal’s argument at the beginning of the book in ten or fifteen years.
It’s fitting that I’m projecting so far into the future since Landline is about hindsight and the past, and what was and is meant to be. Georgie is a successful comedy writer in L.A. on the cusp of getting her own show with her best friend, Seth. The catch? The head honcho wants to see her and Seth’s pitch two days after Christmas. Georgie has promised to go with her husband Neal, and their two children to his parents’ place in Omaha for Christmas. Georgie and Neal have a terrible fight about this, ending with Neal taking the girls to Omaha, and Georgie staying in L.A.
During this time, Georgie discovers that her old yellow rotary phone can call Neal in the past – specifically, Neal at a turning point in their relationship fifteen years ago. Knowing her marriage is falling apart and unable to call Neal in the present, Georgie latches onto this way of evaluating her relationship and figuring out what to do next.
Rowell deftly handles the changing timelines, and the day-after-day structure of the book, balancing it perfectly with observations that mine her characters’ cores. I always knew exactly where I was in the book, and I stayed with the characters through each time change without any effort.
I sank straight into the characters and the conceit of the book from the first page. Even the hardest parts of the book – the intentionally repetitive, over-analytical conversations that people have on the status of their relationships–felt just right: painful, but still blending enjoyment with the rawness of the situation. Georgie and Neal are fantastically, alternately clueless and observant about their relationship, both in the past and the present, and you can just feel the frustration and the miscommunication. It’s SO real and it’s heartbreaking and heart-lifting.
The heart-lifing part comes from Rainbow’s ability to make the most mundane things seem extraordinary, from Neal’s potential job as a railroad investigator to the fact that her mother’s husband built her a real laundry room. These things matter in a Rainbow Rowell novel, and each moment and little detail draws us deeper into the characters. By the end of the book, I couldn’t name Georgie’s or Neal’s favourite colours or movies, but I knew them, and I loved them, flaws and all.
There’s very little else I can say about Landline other than that it is a deeply felt and deeply wrought novel. I’m so grateful that this more than met my expectations – it’s a book that alternates between the feels and quirk, and it’s one that I guarantee you will get emotional about.
Time Travel…Sorta: I love time travel books, but I love it even more when they WORK. This is time travel in a different way, but it’s consistent throughout the book, and the way it comes together informs the book, but never becomes the focus. It’s a conceit, and it’s one that works to bring the book full circle.
“All the Feels” Writing: I can’t believe that this is the first “normal” review that I’ve ever written for a Rainbow Rowell book, but I do kind of understand why I’ve been avoiding it. How do you do justice to writing that reaches in and grabs your heart, squeezes it, then places it gently back together with deft hands? You don’t – you just leave the reader with some quotes (from the ARC, so might not be exactly what’s in the final version):
“Neal didn’t take Georgie’s breath away. Maybe the opposite. But that was okay—that was really good, actually, to be near someone who filled your lungs with air.”
“It was that she’d tied him to her so tight. Because she wanted him. Because he was perfect for Georgie, even if she wasn’t perfect for him. Because she wanted him more than she wanted him to be happy.”
“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.”
The Final Word:
After reading YA for a long time, it’s sometimes refreshing to get to read an adult book. And an adult book written by Rainbow Rowell, author of Eleanor & Park and Fangirl, both of which I absolutely loved? I knew I had to get my hands on this as quickly as possible. I dogeared about half of the book, amazed by the poetic wisdom and observations that felt both incredibly universal and deeply relevant to my personal life. I recommend this to anyone who needs some introspection, with a big daub of quirk on the side. Buy this one, hug it to you, pass it along to friends, and then grab it back to read again and again.
Have you read LANDLINE or any of Rainbow Rowell’s other books? Do you love them like I do? Are you okay with reading this adult book or are you exclusively YA or another genre? How do you feel about books that break you with their feels? Let me know in the comments!