Review: Landline

Rainbow Rowell’s books are a relatively new discovery for me, but I’ve been enjoying them enough that I picked up my third Rowell novel this month, an adult book titled Landline. I thought this romance story would make a great read for February, but after diving in without even reading the synopsis I discovered it would’ve made an even better December read, as it sports a Christmas timeline. I definitely still enjoyed the book regardless of its seasonal setting, and would recommend it for any time of year, though I do think it would be particularly resonant around Christmas.

About the book: Georgie McCool (yes, that’s landlineher real name, and no, it’s not the first time she’s been asked) is on the cusp of a high point in her TV career. Unfortunately, to finish the scripts for the comedy show she’s been working on with her best friend for nearly twenty years, she’ll have to miss Christmas with her husband’s family in Omaha. The very first day of his absence, however, though her dream is finally in sight, she begins to wonder if she’s made a mistake. She misses her kids, of course, but her biggest concern is that Neal was in a worse frame of mind than she realized when he left her at home. Georgie’s mom seems to think he’s not coming back at all. Georgie calls her crazy, but then Neal won’t answer her calls. He’s never around, and if he is, it’s only to fight with her or pass her off to the kids. Mostly, he doesn’t pick up at all. Until she plugs in the old landline phone in her childhood bedroom at her mother’s house and suddenly finds herself talking to a Neal of the past–1998 Neal, who’d broken up with her before Christmas that year by leaving her behind when he drove home to Omaha. Is it future Georgie’s job to fix past Georgie’s mistakes in her relationship with Neal? And even if she can salvage what was broken fifteen years ago, how will she repair the present damage without being able to talk to present Neal?

“Georgie always said ‘I love you,’ and Neal always said it back, no matter how perfunctory it was. It was a safety check, proof that they were both still in this thing.”

Worst aspect: I did not know there was any sort of magical realism in this book when I started reading, so the use of the landline phone as a conduit to the past really caught me by surprise. While I found I did like the idea of this scenario, and the writing here is possibly the best Rowell writing I’ve come across so far, it threw me off to have a magical element in the midst of this otherwise ordinary contemporary romance. Maybe if I had read the synopsis beforehand I would have enjoyed that element more, but I think what it needed most was some sort of explanation for the rules of the landline. It fits well into the story to see the two comparable Christmases Neal and Georgie spent apart, but “Christmas miracle” isn’t quite enough rationale for me in such a realistic story. This confusion over the magical element of the phone was the biggest obstacle for me in rating Landline.

It’s also worth noting that I was able to predict exactly what Georgie would do to save her marriage from the first layout of the problem in the opening chapters. Nothing in the middle of the book was predictable, and I had no idea how Neal would react to Georgie’s reaction, but I had no doubts through nearly 300 pages about what she’d do in the end. Still, guessing part of the ending didn’t bother me as much as the lack of explanation for the magic phone. And that’s a pretty small detail, too, I suppose. The book is about the romance, not about possible time travel of the vocal chords.

“If you were standing next to the person you loved more than everything else, wasn’t everything else just scenery?”

Best aspect: The ups and downs of Georgie’s and Neal’s marriage. There’s so much tension and love between them that every anecdote, as well as every new encounter, is a complete mystery when it’s introduced. The reader never knows whether to expect a happy or sad end to each section, and every emotion is portrayed with the same importance. The hardships are just as significant in this romance as the triumphs, if not more.

“She always fell for the guy in the room who seemed the least interested in her. The guy who was toxically arrogant or cripplingly shy. Or both. The guy at the party who looked like he’d rather be anywhere else.”

Also, shoutout to the characters’ healthy response to Georgie’s sister dating a girl.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. Every single section of this story felt real and emotional. I was pulled in completely from the very beginning and kept me wanting to read every detail of Neal’s and Georgie’s relationship. The only complaints I had with this story were minor details. It was nearly a 5 star read for me. The romance pulls readers right in. If you’re looking for a cute (but also substantial) Valentine’s read, consider Landline.

Further recommendations:

  1. If you want to pick up another Rowell book and don’t know where to start, check out Eleanor & Park, my favorite Rowell read so far. This one’s a contemporary YA romance that hits on some hard topics and is also full of a diverse cast of characters and real-life challenges of modern teens. Whether you’re a teen yourself or looking back on those days, Eleanor & Park has some great messages to share.
  2. Colleen Hoover’s It Ends With Us is another adult romance that deals with a problematic marriage, as well as other difficult topics that occupy modern relationships. This one’s less cute and more powerful, but the heart-warming romance is definitely still there.

What’s next: I’ve just finished Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go, an adult thriller packed with tragedy, love, and killer plot twists. While I work out my spoiler-free thoughts for that review, which I’ll post early next week, I’ll also be working on a writing update that I’m planning to post tomorrow about the progress I’ve made on my novel. Stay tuned to see how my writing project is going, and come back Monday for more reviews and book lists (coming soon: my Top 25 Favorite Books of All Time)!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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