Friday, August 15, 2014


In Rainbow Rowell's latest novel, Landline, Georgie McCool adores her husband Neal and he her, but still their marriage has seen better days. "Things didn't go bad between Georgie and Neal. Things were always bad- and always good. Their marriage was like a set of scales constantly balancing itself. And then, at some point, when neither of them was paying attention, they'd tipped so far over into bad, they'd settled there." With Christmas just around the corner and plans set for Georgie, Neal and their two little ones, Alice and Noomi, to fly home to Omaha for the holidays, Georgie drops the bomb that she can't go. Georgie and her best friend and writing partner, Seth, have finally had their big break - a TV pilot and deal with their dream network - which requires a writing marathon of epic proportions. Sure that Neal will be upset, Georgie's a little disconcerted when he calmly agrees that she has to stay, but, he and the girls are going to Omaha anyway.

Georgie knows in her heart that he's got reason to be upset; Neal is the glue that holds the family together and as a stay-at-home dad he cooks, cleans, does laundry, and takes care of the girls. Not only that, but he's also accepted every one of her late nights at work and every time she's chosen work and her show over her family; so now with a silent house and her family thousands of miles away, Georgie's afraid she's finally done it and totally wrecked her marriage. Georgie's mom Liz seems pretty certain she's done just that and is determined to offer her support with home-cooked meals and sage advice; while her sister Heather is less than reassuring, quickly reminding Georgie that "Neal would totally get custody" if he did leave her - and Georgie knows "He totally would."

When Georgie keeps missing Neal at his mom's house, she starts to feel more than a little panic, but then while staying in her childhood room, which her mom has converted into a pug trophy room (more on Porky and Petunia later), Georgie decides to try him again, and with her cell phone dead as usual, she plugs in her old yellow rotary phone and dials to resounding success, only problem is it's Neal back in 1998, before they were even married. More than a little freaked out by the experience, Georgie considers a number of possible explanations for this interdimensional portal; "1. Persistent hallucination. 2. Really long dream. 3. Schizophrenic episode." or "10. Magical fucking phone." Having settled on number 10 as the most logical explanation, the options on what to do next were limited really; she could call a doctor and possibly end up institutionalized which could help in earning present day Neal's pity, pretend this never happened or maybe, just maybe, keep playing along. After all, this could all be some weird cosmic opportunity to actually save her marriage.

This was such a great book! Hilarious, touching, and insightful, Landline is filled from the first page to the last with great characters and great dialogue. Much like Rowell brilliantly delivered a beautiful and haunting story of first love in her best-selling novel Eleanor & Park, she's once again showcased her talent and witty humor in this honest, real and moving take on love and marriage, capturing all its joys and imperfections. A romantic caper that for all of our protagonists struggles and doubts is dotted throughout with their undeniable love.

The one thing you'll find as soon as you read a Rainbow Rowell novel, this being my second, is that she writes such amazing characters - they are real, human (aka flawed), and so relatable. Every character that's a part of Georgie's life adds a new dimension and texture to the story; from her pug-loving mom, currently on her third marriage to an African American man nearly 20 years her junior, to four-year old Noomi who thinks of herself as green kitty and meows through every conversation, to her sister Heather, who at 18 was a change-of-life-baby "meaning Georgie's mom had decided to change her life by sleeping with the chiropractor she worked for;" to Seth, her sarcastic and fashionable best-friend. Every character jumps off the page, even the ones in passing like the pizza delivery person or the non-human variety like Porky and Petunia, and make you wish you could call them friends.

Alternating between past and present, through flashbacks, we get to see the full span of Georgie and Neal's love and marriage; the ups - before life, work and kids got in the way - and the downs when every day seemed like a struggle, making us love them all the more. Rowell intersperses the countless chuckles and guffaws with simple reminders of the truth of marriage, "You don’t know when you’re twenty-three...You don't know what it really means to crawl into someone else's life and stay there. You can't see all the ways you're going to get tangled, how you're going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten - in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems." Absorbing the depths of feeling in that passage, a reader (especially one not married) can come a little closer to understanding what it really means to share someones life.

Landline offers loads of humor but also an almost poetic wisdom on love and marriage which belies the genre. With depth, heart, and a new cast of quirky and unforgettable characters, Landline reminds us that we have to earn our fairy tale love stories; we have to give a little more, try a little harder, and never take someone's love for granted.