Rainbow Rowell (Twitter) (Facebook) (Tumblr)
Audiobook read by Rebecca Lowman
St. Martin’s Press (July 2014), Hardcover (ISBN 1250049377 / 9781250049377)
Fiction, 320 pages
Source: Purchased audiobook (Macmillan Audio (July 2014), ISBN 9781427239334; Audible ASIN B00KAG8OZM)
I haven’t been able to pull my thoughts about Rainbow Rowell’s return to adult-audience fiction, Landline, into a thematically coherent whole, so I’m recording my impressions in bullet-point format. Some of these points may be spoilers if you have not yet read the novel, so proceed at your own risk!
- The characters in Landline have adult lives and and adult concerns, but on the whole, this novel didn’t feel all that different from Rowell’s YA fiction to me. There were some parts, particularly the flashbacks to Georgie and Neal’s relationship during college, that feltvery much like Rowell’s YA fiction. I’m a fan of her work in that category, and I’m still not sure whether I think this should have felt different. That said, the parts that felt more like Rowell’s YA work felt more convincing and authentic to me.
- One element of the novel that did feel authentic to me, if not entirely convincing, was Georgie and Seth’s friendship. I found it very interesting that Rowell gave her protagonist a “best friend” that she couldn’t really talk to about anything too personal—I don’t think I see that in fiction very often. But I don’t see best-friend relationships between straight, married women and straight, unmarried men in fiction very often either, and I thought the boundaries in this particular friendship—largely defined by work, and a source of friction in Georgie’s marriage—were realistic.
- Any consideration of what’s “realistic” in Landline has to come back around to the novel’s central device: the “time-traveling telephone.” I realize that it’s essentially the basis for the story, but I’m not sure the story needed to be structured around it. As Rowell reveals Georgie and Neal’s relationship, the conflict between them becomes clear enough, and it absolutely makes sense that Georgie would be reflecting on their history and its impact on their future during a week of separation even if she weren’t having telephone conversations with the Neal of fifteen years earlier.
- I had the opportunity to read Landline in print, but I chose the audiobook version instead, and I’m very glad I did. The pairing of author Rainbow Rowell and narrator Rebecca Lowman has become one of my favorites, and I think Lowman’s work here is some of the very best I’ve heard from her. As you may have gathered by now, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the novel, but the quality of the audio performance helped me set aside some of my issues with the material.
Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply—but that almost seems beside the point now. Maybe that was always beside the point.
Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her—Neal is always a little upset with Georgie—but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go without her.
When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.
That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts… .
Is that what she’s supposed to do?
Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?
“Georgie pulled into the driveway, swerving to miss a bike.
“Neal never made Alice put it away.
“Apparently bicycles never got stolen back in Nebraska—and people never tried to break in to your house. Neal didn’t even lock the front door most nights until after Georgie came home, though she’d told him that was like putting a sign in the yard that said PLEASE ROB US AT GUNPOINT. ‘No,’ he’d said. ‘That would be different, I think.’
“She hauled the bike up onto the porch and opened the (unlocked) door.
“The lights were off in the living room, but the TV was still on. Alice had fallen asleep on the couch watching Pink Panther cartoons. Georgie went to turn it off and stumbled over a bowl of milk sitting on the floor. There was a stack of laundry folded on the coffee table—she grabbed whatever was on the top to wipe it up.
“When Neal stepped into the archway between the living room and the dining room, Georgie was crouched on the floor, sopping up milk with a pair of her own underwear.”