Friday, September 5, 2014

Contemporary Fiction: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

I am a huge fan of Rainbow Rowell's young adult fiction, so I was both excited and a little scare to read her newest novel written for adults, Landline. I had only read Rowell's young adult fiction, so I wasn't sure how much I would like her writing when it is geared towards adult. But because I enjoyed her other books, I decided I was willing to risk having my adoration of Rowell's writing potentially tainted by what could have been a mediocre book.

The Situation: Georgie McCool is a TV comedy writer living in LA with her two kids, and her stay-at-home husband Neal. Her writing partner and best friend, Seth, has actually known Georgie longer than her husband as they have worked together since college, before Georgie got up the nerve to walk into the production room of the college paper and speak to Neal. After getting married and having their first kid, Neal decided that sending their daughter off to be taken care of strangers while they both worked wasn't for them. Knowing how much Georgie loved her work, and that he hadn't quite figured out what he wanted to do with his career, he became the one who cooked, cleaned, and took care of the kids, while Georgie worked with Seth, making people laugh. Now it is Christmas 2013 and the family has had plans to go to Omaha, Nebraska to visit Neal's mom. And then Georgie and Seth are given the opportunity they have been hoping for since college.

The Problem: As she sees Neal and her daughters being driven away to the airport without her, Georgie already knows that she has made a mistake deciding to stay behind and work. Her marriage was already in trouble, and now it feels like she has put the final nail in the coffin. Seth knows something is up - he is her best friend after all - but Georgie can't bring herself to talk to him about it. So as he worries about the upcoming meeting they are busy working on in the final days before Christmas, Georgie continually obsesses over her perpetually dead phone and how she hasn't heard from Neal in days. And after deciding she doesn't want to stay in an empty house, she sleeps over at her mother's house, who isn't exactly helpful as she keeps insisting that her daughter is on the verge of divorce. But, Despite her mother's insistence that her marriage is practically dead, Georgie keeps trying to reach Neal in Omaha, even resulting to plugging in an old landline telephone into a phone jack in her old room. While Georgie manages to reach Neal, what she gets from the conversation is something she can't quite believe, let alone ever expected.

Genre, Themes, History: Unlike Rowell's two previous books, this is a fiction novel written for an adult audience as opposed to young adults. The book starts off with George's marriage already in trouble, and her believing she has finally taken that step that will cause her husband to leave her. The issues in their marriage aren't anything terribly dramatic: no one is being unfaithful; there isn't any history of physical abuse; and no one is addicted to anything that can cause stress on a relationship. I suppose it could be argued that Georgie is addicted to her work, but even that isn't really the problem. The problem isn't even Seth, Georgie's best friend and workmate who doesn't like Neal any more than Neal likes him. It would be easy to blame Seth as he is the one whose constant presence in Georgie's life sends Neal over the edge, but really, the issue is that Georgie continually chooses Seth and her work over Neal and her family. Another big issue is communication, or lack thereof. And in this book, it isn't just the fact that no one is stating the obvious, but also that Georgie can't seem to get a hold of Neal once he is in Omaha. Even if her cell phone is charged enough to make a call, Neal doesn't pick up, or his mom does. Sometimes she even ends up getting one of her daughters instead of her husband. Georgie has to somehow push aside her work, her meddling family, and failing technology if she is to reconnect with Neal. Oh yeah, and then there is the time travel...or sort-of time travel. That landline I mentioned earlier that Georgie uses because her cell phone is manages to reach Neal, but it isn't 2013 Neal. Instead, whenever Georgie uses the landline, she ends up reaching Neal's house as it was 15 years ago, before they were even married. So then the age-old time travel questions must be asked: if you could go back and change the past knowing what you know now, would you? And would it make any difference?

My Verdict: I can't say I was as crazy about Landline as I was about Fangirl. But to be fair, there really aren't too many books I like as much as I like Fangirl, so there's that. Even so, this is a really good book that does what is always so hard to do when dealing with time travel, or even pseudo time travel. Instead of giving too much detail about it or trying too hard to convince the reader that this is possible and not absolutely absurd, and therefore ruining the illusion, Rowell simply presents the concept in all of its ridiculousness, without pushing it, and somehow it works. It didn't cause me to think about it too much, and instead I was able to just read the story while suspending a little disbelief. I think Georgie has a pretty realistic reaction to the situation as well. While it would be hard to believe that her mom's landline was somehow calling 1998 Omaha, I can understand Georgie being desperate enough to save her marriage that she ultimately would go along with it, if anything just to see what happens. I also feel like this is the kind of book everyone should read before getting married. The issues between Georgie and Neal are issues I see a lot in marriages today, and Rowell makes it clear that it isn't just about Georgie working all of the time. Fangirl is still my favorite Rowell book, but Landline deserves a place on the shelf too.

Favorite Moment: When Georgie finally admits, out loud, why she and Neal have been so unhappy for so long.

Favorite Character: I suppose my favorite character would be Georgie. She isn't perfect by any means, but she is trying and promises to continue to try.

Recommended Reading: It should come as no surprise that I recommend Rowell's Fangirl to anyone who hasn't read it, adults included. It is certainly more quirky than Landline, and I do love young adult books that attempt to use college as a setting as opposed to the often used high school backdrop.

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