As someone who loved, loved, loved Eleanor and Park and who loved Fangirl, I was surprised to find that I had more mixed feelings about this novel by Rainbow Rowell. There were a lot of things I liked and a lot of potential but there were also some things that didn’t work—some which I noticed while I read and others that began to bug me when I thought about them more afterwards.
First of all, a quick overview. Landline is the story of an LA couple, Georgie and Neal, who are falling apart. Georgie is a successful TV writer with her best friend, Seth, while Neal has taken up the duties of househusband, caring for the couple’s two daughters, Alice and Naomi (or Noomi). The day before Georgie, Neal, and the kids plan to fly home to Nebraska for Christmas, Georgie learns that she and Seth have a chance right after Christmas to shop a TV idea they’ve been working on since college to a powerful producer. Currently Georgie and Seth write for highly successful TV comedy (one of those sitcoms that stars a stand up comedian) but yearn to work on something of their own and something less soul-sucking. The only problem with this golden opportunity is that Georgie needs to stay in LA to work with Seth over the holidays. As you might expect, this does not go over well with Neal, who heads to Nebraska without her, daughters in tow. Is it a separation? Is this the beginning of the end of her marriage?
However, things get even more complicated when Georgie uses a landline phone at her mother’s house and is suddenly connected with Neal from fifteen years ago. At that point in time, Neal and Georgie had just broken up but soon would reunite and get married. Why is Georgie suddenly able to talk with 1998 Neal? Will talking with 1998 Neal save her marriage in 2013? You’ll have to read this novel to find out.
What I liked about this novel? The overall set up was a good one—the story of a couple falling apart but with a plot device that allows both the reader and the main character to go back to earlier times in the relationship. I liked getting to know Georgie’s eccentric family—her mom, stepdad, and much younger stepsister. I didn’t mind the “landline” concept though since this is not a science fiction tale, the ramifications of this particular “wrinkle in time” can’t be examined too closely.
There were a number of things that bothered me. One of the things I loved about Eleanor and Park was the way that Rowell shifted between these two characters—helping us to see the relationship grow and splinter from both sides. I can’t help but wonder what Landline would have been like if Rowell had tried a similar strategy here. Though written in third person, I felt like I was mainly getting Georgie’s perspective and that made things feel lopsided. Though the story spends some time exploring Georgie’s relationship with Seth, I felt like there was more to be said about the best friend versus husband dynamic. Finallly, I end the novel not sure what I think of Georgie and Neal’s relationship. Why does it take a magic phone for Georgie to realize that marriage/relationships might involve some compromise? I like that Rowell turns the traditional dynamic on its head here—so we have a woman married to her job and a husband who does most of the hardcore nurturing. However, am I wrong to want a story where both characters break free from these conventions?
Maybe I was having a bad week when I read this but I finished this book feeling a bit grumpy and dissatisfied. However, this may be as much to do with my great love for the two previous books as it does for any shortcomings here. If you haven’t read Rainbow Rowell, maybe you should START with this one.