I find it fascinating that all of Rainbow Rowell’s novels hinge upon a piece of modern technology. Email is at the center of the appropriately named Attachments. The title characters Eleanor and Park fall in love sharing headphones on a Walkman, listening to mixed tapes. Fan fiction and Internet culture plays a huge role in Fangirl.
And now Rainbow Rowell has done it again. Only this time, in Landline, the technology is outdated. The old rotary phone harkens back to the past, just as the main character Georgie McCool does when she uses it.
Literally. She is literally listening to the past when she uses the phone. Or more precisely she’s listening to her current husband from fifteen years ago when he wasn’t her husband and was deciding whether he wanted to be together at all.
Georgie is married, with two children, a loving househusband Neal, and her dream job as a comedy writer in LA. Everything should be perfect … only it’s not. This becomes painfully clear when she decides to abandon the family Christmas trip to Neal’s mother’s house and stay with her writing partner to in pursuit of her REAL dream job: writing the TV sitcom she has always wanted to write. She expects Neal to understand, because he always does, but something feels different this time.
While he’s gone, she’s unable to get him on the phone … in the present. Instead, she finds that when she tries to call him with the old landline in her childhood bedroom through some kind of magic time portal she ends up speaking with Neal from their senior year of college. As the back of the book says (I’ll paraphrase) the phone gives her a way to fix her marriage before it even starts, but she starts to wonder if she and Neal would be better off if they’d never gotten married to begin with.
Once you get over the magical realism of have a time traveling phone (just accept it – that’s why they call it a willing suspension of disbelief) fans of Rowell will find all of the elements they loved in her previous books: a romantic interest without a bad-boy bone in his body, a flawed but relatable heroine, believable portrayals of how people thing, and red-hot dialogue (especially between Georgie and her little sister).
Still, I think a lot of people who fell in love with Rowell from YA books Eleanor and Park or Fangirl might be a little disappointed. I’ll repeat the words a little for emphasis. Both previous books felt more active and present, than this novel, which is primarily about looking back. YA has an ability to be hopeful and optimistic that a book evaluating a fifteen-year relationship lacks. Even though the stakes for Georgie are arguably larger (a back to the future scenario could erase her life as she knows it) for some reason the tension didn’t feel as high.
But comparing the book to other “chick lit” or “women’s fiction” (for lack of better terms) this book shines. I laughed, cried, and stayed up until 4am so I could read it in one sitting. I might not love it as much as Fangirl, but let’s face it I might not love any book as much as Fangirl ever again. This book has characters you will love to spend time with and story that will keep you turning pages. My suggestion is to skip the comparisons and just enjoy it!
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