I was a Rainbow Rowell virgin before reading Landline – which qualifies me for reading idiot of the year. But it also let me come to this novel without expectations.
Landline is Rowell’s first adult novel, after wowing readers with Eleanor & Park and Fangirl. In a nutshell, Landline is about a woman named Georgie who has always been torn between her “work husband” Seth and her actual husband, Neal. But there’s a twist: while Georgia and Neal are separated during the Christmas holiday, and in the middle of an epic fight, she calls Neal from an old landline in her childhood bedroom, and finds herself in a conversational time machine. Confused at first, Georgie comes to realize that the phone somehow puts her back to the last time she and Neal were separated before the holidays – nearly two decades earlier – during another crossroads in their relationship just before he proposed.
Georgie and Neal’s relationship has long been strained by the compromises that are not uncommon to many marriages: career stuff, kids stuff – life stuff. Fourteen years into their marriage, Neal is a stay at home dad to their two daughters, aged four and seven, while Georgie works long hours as a TV writer for a sitcom. Her writing partner is Seth – good looking, charming, talented. He was part of her life long before Neal, and Neal has always been threatened by him. Now it’s Christmas, and Georgie has a dilemma: After years of writing for a crappy but successful show (think Two and a Half Men), she has a shot at getting her dream show on the air. But they only have a week to get their script together – and that week is Christmas break. She is supposed to leave town with Neal to spend the holiday at his mother’s house, but she can’t go. She asks him to stay home with the kids so they can at least be together. He leaves without her. And so, when she should be writing the script of her career, she is left to grapple with saving her marriage.
One thing that was challenging for me was that I happened to like her work husband better than her real husband. Her husband came dangerously close to seeming like a guy who simply never found his own passion in life, and thus resented his wife’s drive and success.
Landline is filled with sparkling dialogue and funny, complex supporting characters – including my favorite, Georgie’s eighteen year old half-sister Heather (If you saw Lena Dunham’s film Tiny Furniture, picture her sister in that movie.) My favorite part of the story is when Georgie tries to explain what marriage is like to Heather: “It’s like… you’re tossing a ball between you, and you’re just hoping you can keep it in the air. And it has nothing to do with whether you love each other or not. If you didn’t love each other, you wouldn’t be playing this stupid game with the ball. You love each other – and you just hope you can keep the ball in play.”
Watching Georgie scramble to put together the puzzle of her relationship as well as figure out the purpose of the time-machine phone is great fun, and the satisfying ending is full of so much real emotion and genuine relationship wisdom, it’s well-worth the suspension of reality that it takes to get you there.