Can you really like a book while still strongly disliking nearly everyone in it? I found Landline to be compelling and affecting, but I was driven to states of near agony by the overall behavior of the protagonist and almost everyone else in her orbit.
Georgie McCool (a name that could be very silly, but as a person with a seemingly “fake name” I am on board) is a writer on a cheesy TV sitcom. She and her writing partner, Seth, have been working in the comedy trenches for years on projects that they do not care about, hoping to one day get a shot and putting together their own show. They get a miraculous big meeting after years of rejection, and now they have about a week to put together five scripts for their dream project. Since we are in the world of sitcoms, you can cue the record-scratch here:
The big meeting hits days after Christmas, and Georgie has already made plans to go to her mother-in-law’s home in Omaha for Christmas!
*insert Home Alone face here*
Whatever is Georgie to do?!
To the continued consternation of her perpetually grumpy husband, Neal, Georgie is going to stay in LA while Neal takes their daughters to Omaha without her.
Georgie, who remains in LA for her work then proceeds to do no work whatsoever. Her phone won’t hold a charge, she doesn’t want to go home and get her wall charger, and she goes to her mother’s house because she can’t stand going home to her empty house. Her mother still has a landline, so Georgie plugs in the old yellow phone in her old teenage bedroom and gives Neal’s house a call the old-fashioned way.
Neal’s cell goes straight to voicemail, or gets picked up by young children, or gets picked up by his confused mother. Georgie hasn’t been able to get a hold of him since he left in a huff for Omaha. Struck by the rotary phone in her hand, she calls the Omaha landline and BOOM!
In Georgie’s own words: magic. fucking phone.
The landline connects her to Neal, but not the Neal who is her husband. She gets connected to the Neal of 1998. 1998 was the last time Neal went home without Georgie.
*insert Inception BWAAAAAM*
Someone had given Georgie a magic phone and all she’d wanted to do with it is stay up late talking to her old boyfriend. If they’d given her a proper time machine, she probably would have used it to cuddle with him. Let someone else kill Hitler.
I love the concept of a “magic. fucking. phone.” I like this very mild form of time travel, and I like that it is through a device that holds a sweet nostalgic pull for something that happened in my lifetime. While I am younger than Georgie and Neal, I too spent long hours with the phone stuck to my ear, talking an an almost whisper, tucked under my duvet long into the night and early morning. It wasn’t a corded phone with a rotary dial, but it was a large plastic monstrosity with an aggressively pointy antenna. Rowell does an incredible job of bringing back that “teenage feeling” of clandestine telephone courtship. The sweet moments, the arguments, the worry of someone else cutting into the line- I loved everything about the adventures in telephone magic. I also loved her slow and steady description of Georgie and Neal falling for each other in college. She handles the feeling of “you know, this might be love” so well! I was left swoony and nostalgic.
Georgie and Neal are awful. They have little in common, no patience for each other, and no respect for one another. The statement “nothing good is easy” comes up multiple times throughout their timeline, and I HATE that statement. I will always disagree with the alleged fact that relationships HAVE to be hard, that fights are supposed to happen, and that it’s a constant struggle to remain in a relationship. In this case, I would say that the relationship as a whole is not good, and therefore not easy, but the sentiment returns again and again.
“Nobody’s lives just fit together,” Neal said. “Fitting together is something you work at. It’s something you make happen—because you love each other.”
NO. Their lives don’t fit together because they are bad for each other and bad to other people around them. Georgie is a workaholic who doesn’t actually do any meaningful work, and she refuses to do anything about her negative impact on others. Also, for a comedy writer, she does not do a single funny thing in the book. Yes, I know, comedians are not required to be funny in their daily lives, but for someone whose dream has always been to be a comedy writer, she does not tell a joke, describe a comedic happening, or interact with anyone in a way that could be described as remotely amusing. She’s sour, cold, demanding, and rude. She has harsh words for the comedian starring in her current sitcom, but she offers nothing of value in return.
I’m extra good at wanting things. I want things until I feel sort of sick about them. I want enough for two normal people, at least.
She wants, wants, and wants but is never clear with what that “want” may be. She’s rigid, yet expects all those around her to bend to her ever tantrum. She wants to want, and she wants to be wanted, but she has nothing to offer. I feel bad for everyone who has to encounter her. Her coworkers, her best friend, her mother, her sister, her stepfather, her children- she’s full of words for them, but her actions lay flat and motionless.
Neal is a different kind of mess; he is equally demanding and dismissive and will go to all ends of the universe to make others feel bad, then demand that they feel another way because their chosen feelings weren’t his direct intention. Ugh. I wanted to be sympathetic towards Neal. He’s very involved with their kids, he’s the stay-at-home parent to both the children and to Georgie, and he is a deeply unhappy person…but while he isn’t as frequently cruel as Georgie, he is still a jerk- especially while they are dating in college. He’s jealous, but demands that she never be jealous. Neal has serious “nice guy”-itus, and while his red flags are mostly yellow, this character could easily morph into a villain- especially if he existed off the page.
I am torn. Georgie and Neal are dreadful together, but I still deeply enjoyed Rowell’s description of them falling for each other. She harnessed the indescribable spark that brings people together, and she catches the teenage highs of sneaky phone times, but she delivered a deeply distressing couple that we are supposed to root for and love.