“Things didn’t go bad between Georgie and Neal. Things were always bad—and always good. Their marriage was like a set of scales that was constantly balancing itself.”
Television comedy writer Georgie McCool knows her marriage is on the rocks. In fact, it feels like her relationship with Neal has been in trouble forever, and could just go on that way indefinitely. But when she and her writing partner, Seth, get the opportunity they have been waiting for to write their own show for the network of their dreams, the catch may finally bring her marriage tumbling down. Seth and Georgie only have ten days to write four scripts to present to the network executives, and staying in Los Angeles to write the episodes will mean missing Christmas in Nebraska with Neal’s family. Instead of staying in LA for Christmas as Georgie had expected, Neal packs up Alice and Naomi, and flies to Omaha without her. Calls to Neal’s cellphone go unanswered, and Georgie is afraid that she has finally wrecked her marriage for good. When the old yellow rotatory phone in her childhood bedroom somehow provides Georgie the opportunity to speak with Neal in the past, she has the chance to either try to fix her marriage before it happens, or convince Neal he never should have married her in the first place.
After two extremely successful young adult novels, Rainbow Rowell returns to her roots in adult fiction with Landline, a romantic comedy with a magical twist that may cause her contemporary fiction fans to look askance. Fortunately, Rowell openly acknowledges that her premise is a little bit ridiculous. As Georgie tries to wrap her head around what is happening, she makes a list of possibilities that includes such self-deprecating options as “5. Am already dead? Like on Lost,” and “9. It’s a Wonderful Life? (Minus angel. Minus suicide. Minus quasi-rational explanation),” before getting to “10. Magic fucking phone.” However, the unusual device allows Rowell to combine the intensity of a new romance (on Neal’s end of the timeline) and the tension of trying to save a marriage that has gone off the tracks (on Georgie’s end). The phone allows Georgie to look back on her relationship in a way that is more than just a flashback. That Neal has no idea he is speaking to Georgie in the future only makes matters more complicated, creating some humourous shenanigans. Ultimately, the magic phone does not change the fact that this is a story about how two people fit together, and make their relationship work when they have fundamental differences of opinion (Neal dislikes Seth and hates LA, but loves Georgie) that do not simply disappear over time.
Landline has all of Rowell’s usual charm and humour, witty dialogue and believably flawed relationships, with a magical device used to examine the situation from an unorthodox perspective. Fans of Rowell who don’t usually go in for the fantastic should certainly give it a chance, just as those who don’t normally go in for love stories should give her work try. Rowell follows the typical romantic comedy script, with just enough variance and deviation to really make it her own. Landline doesn’t have the deep emotional resonance of Eleanor & Park, but it touches on other truths, such as how two people who love each other and are trying hard can still have difficulty making their marriage work over the long-haul. Unfortunately, Seth wasn’t quite a rounded enough character to really counter-balance Neal. As a personification of Georgie’s career aspirations, he isn’t particularly appealing, and her choice is just a little too obvious. Nevertheless, Rowell brings it together with her signature style; she excels at open-ended conclusions that are just short of unsatisfying, but leave you unable to stop thinking about the book for days, so that the story stays with you long after the last page.
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