Thursday, May 28, 2020

Book 235: Landline

"Sometimes she lost her place when she was arguing with Neal. The argument would shift into something else—into somewhere more dangerous—and Georgie wouldn't even realize it. Sometimes Neal would end the conversation or abandon it while she was still making her point, and she'd just go on arguing long after he had checked out."

Dates read: May 21-23, 2018

Rating: 6/10

My husband and I didn't meet until our late 20s. While obviously that's worked out, sometimes I'm a little jealous of people who meet the person they end up with early on in life. Knowing someone in that way you only really can when you watch them grow up and come into themselves is special. On the other hand, though, the 20s can be such a turbulent decade that the person we are near the end of it is very different than the person that began it. And for me, that's a good thing. I honestly don't know that my husband and I would have found each other especially interesting if we'd met in college.

Growing together really lies at the heart of what makes a long-term relationship work. In Rainbow Rowell's Landline, Georgie and Neal meet while working at their campus humor magazine in college, marry when they're 23, and by the time they're in their late 30s, they have what looks like on the outside to be a cozy little setup. Georgie writes for a cheesy sitcom, and Neal is a stay-at-home dad to their two little girls. But Georgie and her long-time writing partner, Seth, have dreamed of their own show for ages and they finally get the chance to pitch it to someone who could make it happen. In order to give it their best shot, though, Georgie will need to miss the annual family trip to Nebraska to spend Christmas with Neal's parents. Her decision to do so, combined with her husband's growing dissatisfaction, puts her marriage in jeopardy.

Desperate to get ahold of her husband and with a dying cellphone, she drags out an old landline phone to connect with him. Georgie slowly comes to realize, though, that while the voice on the other end of the line is her husband, it's not him now. It's him on Christmas break their senior year in college, when he broke up with her but then suddenly showed up on her doorstep with a ring. As she remembers the early days of their love story, and the versions of themselves they used to be, she finds herself thinking about how things have changed over the years and re-evaluating what it actually is that she wants and needs from her life.

Rainbow Rowell is a writer who is constantly recommended on the internet for her sweet, compelling love stories. This one will strike a chord for many women who work and feel stuck between their home/family life and their career. Although Georgie's probably the more relatable character simply because the story's told from her perspective, I really appreciated that both she and Neal are painted in shades of grey. She's not demonized for wanting to be successful in her chosen field, but neither is he for feeling neglected and put-upon. The characters Rowell builds feel real, and so do the situations she puts them in. And, crucial in a book about being on the phone, she's got a great knack for dialogue.

Now on to the less good. Landline was Rowell's first adult novel (most of her work falls into YA), and I'd heard it was not one of her stronger efforts. I'm glad I had that warning ahead of time, because while I thought there were a lot of flaws here I wasn't crushingly disappointed. In order to really buy into the book, you have to be emotionally invested in Georgie and Neal's love story, and I just wasn't. I didn't understand what brought them together in the first place, much less what kept them together. And the tone of the whole thing just felt wonky. On the one hand, Rowell clearly wanted to write something light-hearted and charming, with quirky side characters all over the place to keep the mood up (her mom breeds pugs AND has a much younger husband! And her younger daughter insists on being called Noomi instead of Naomi AND talks like a cat!). But on the other, she's trying to write something heartfelt about the challenges of making sure you and your spouse/partner are growing together and not apart, and the stresses of trying to keep your family happy and achieve your professional goals. That's a much more serious book, and in trying to toe the line between them it fails more often than it succeeds. But I liked the quality of her writing, and while I ultimately wasn't wow-ed by this book, I'm definitely interested in reading her YA.

One year ago, I was reading: Midnight's Children (review to come)

Two years ago, I was reading: The Sky Is Yours

Three years ago, I was reading: The Panopticon

Four years ago, I was reading: Shylock Is My Name


  1. I think this is my least favorite Rainbow Rowell book. I didn’t find the characters’ relationship or problems very interesting. I’m glad I started with the author’s YA books because they’re some of my favorite books ever.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

    1. I'm really looking forward to reading her YA!