I think I’ve mentioned this a time or nine million, but back at the beginning of 2017, I started to read down my atrociously high Goodreads TBR list. Through sheer will and with the aid of multiple libraries, I blew through almost 200 books from the list before I began weeding out books that no longer interested me from there. It was a worthy project, I read a ton of amazing books (and a few…not so amazing ones), but in the process, I basically ignored every other book out there that wasn’t on my list. So I was really surprised when I saw Landline by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin’s Press, 2014) pop up on someone else’s blog. Rainbow Rowell has a book I haven’t heard of? How did I miss that???? (Oh yeah. Reading strictly from my TBR and not having been blogging at the time.) I was so deeply enamored by Fangirl that this book went immediately onto my list.
Georgie McCool has a dilemma. It’s a few days before Christmas; she, her husband, and the kids are supposed to be leaving to spend the holidays with Neal’s mother in Omaha, but Georgie’s dream project, the TV show she and her writing partner Seth have wanted to make happen for years, has a chance of becoming reality. Unfortunately, this reality requires Georgie and Seth to complete multiple scripts within a mere handful of days. Farewell, Christmas. Georgie tries to make Neal understand- this is her dream, what she’s worked for her entire life- but with barely a terse goodbye, he’s gone, and Georgie’s left feeling unsettled.
Plagued by a cell phone whose battery barely lets it function at all, Georgie’s calls to Neal all go unanswered, and despite her attempts to focus on script writing with Seth, not much is getting done. Desperate to make some sort of contact with the husband she fears she’s losing, she calls his mother’s house from her teenage bedroom, using the vintage landline phone she used when she was younger. To her surprise, it’s Neal that answers her: not the Neal of today, but Neal from the Christmas he proposed, back when they were just beginning and his father was still alive. Georgie can’t quite figure out what’s going on- is she crazy? Is it magic?- but whatever it is, it’s clear that this is her last chance to make things right.
Landline is about how complicated life and marriage/relationships can get. It’s about the difficulty in balancing work and family, about sacrifice and identity. Georgie is driven; she works long hours and loves her job, but often comes home tired and doesn’t have much left to give her family, especially her husband. Neal has been the stay-at-home parent since the birth of their first daughter and is a natural in the role, so much so that Georgie feels like a third wheel at times. It’s so, so easy for a couple to lose one another in the jumble of work, children, and regular life stress, and this book does a great job illustrating what a marriage looks like when that happens- bitterness, resentment, feeling left out.
I have to say, I didn’t love Neal. I didn’t find much about him or his personality attractive, and I didn’t quite get the appeal he held for Georgie. I also felt like their relationship was set up to fail right from the start. He hated California but married Georgie knowing that that’s where she’d have to live for her career? I get thinking that it wouldn’t be that bad in the beginning and things changing over time, but he was also hostile towards her partnership with Seth (which predated Georgie’s relationship with Neal) from the start as well. He also gave up his job, albeit one he didn’t like, in order to stay home with their children. Neal seemed to be dead-set on martyring himself, then complaining about the effects of doing so, and I found that aspect of his personality- which made up MOST of his personality- to be entirely disagreeable.
That’s not to say that I didn’t like the book. The premise of a magic telephone that can somehow call the past was great. Georgie’s career as a comedy and television writer was fascinating to me; her partnership with Seth was fun, and how Ms. Rowell portrayed the complexities of maintaining any kind of balance with your spouse once you throw children into the mix was dead-on. It’s hideously difficult, and if both partners aren’t actively working to maintain that connection, it’s as good as nonexistent. But Neal and his disagreeable personality and his dismissal of Georgie’s huge opportunity that had the audacity to come at an inconvenient time? That kind of soured a good portion of the book for me. Neal is no Levi from Fangirl, that’s for sure. (LEVI. *swooooooooooooooooon*)
So I definitely didn’t love this as much as I loved Ms. Rowell’s Fangirl, but those are huge shoes to fill, because I never wanted that book to end. She has two others I haven’t read (I’m not much interested in reading Carry On– not my thing, ironically, considering how much I LOVED Fangirl– but I do want to read Kindred Spirits and Almost Midnight).
Have you read Landline? I’d love to hear your thoughts, particularly on Neal. Did you find him to be a more sympathetic character than I did?