Category: Magic Realism

When the Moon Was Ours

Cover image for When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemoreby Anna-Marie McLemore

ISBN 978-1-250-05866-9

“She had seen him naked. Almost naked. And she understood that with his clothes off, he was the same as he was with them on. ”

When the people of the town tore down the old water tower, out came Miel, soaking wet but otherwise unharmed, aside from her deathly fear of pumpkins. This unusual appearance is the least of her oddities; roses grow unbidden from her wrist, and the hem of her skirt is constantly wet, even in the heat of summer. Always half-regarded as a witch, her only friend is Sam, a boy with secrets of his own. He paints and hangs beautiful moons from the trees, and he is maybe the only boy in town who has never fallen in love with one of the Bonner sisters, four more suspected witches because of their great beauty and even greater heartlessness. But when the Bonner sisters seem to be losing their power, they decide that Miel’s roses hold the key to restoring it. And if she doesn’t give them up, neither her secrets, nor Sam’s, will be safe.

As the story opens, Sam and Miel’s long friendship—dating from the time that Sam was the first person to approach her after she emerged from the water tower—has just begun to transform into something more. Young adult narratives commonly build up the romance slowly, making readers wait for so much as a kiss, but Anna-Marie McLemore boldly depicts Sam and Miel in bed together in chapter two. In interviews, McLemore has said that she had to rewrite the book “four times just from the ground up”, chasing her own fear of honestly portraying “safe consensual queer sex” in a young adult book. But the result is a very tender scene that becomes a necessary foundation for the further development of Sam and Miel’s relationship in the rest of the book.

Carved pumpkin adapted from the cover of When the Moon Was Ours
When the Moon Was Ours themed book-o-lantern. Happy Halloween!

Sam is a trans boy who has latched onto the concept of bacha posch, a practice in some parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, where families who have no sons dress their daughters as boys so that they can fulfill the role temporarily. As adults, they are expected to return to living as women, and marry. Sam, or Samir, learned about the practiced from his Pakistani grandmother, and seizes on it as a means to live the life he wants, while also hoping that when adulthood arrives, he will somehow be able to become the woman that society expects. Sam’s mother, and Miel’s guardian, Aracely, have hidden Sam’s secret from everyone else for years, but now the Bonner sisters are threatening to expose him in a town not known for its tolerance.

The villains of McLemore’s story are the four Bonner sisters, Chloe, Lian, Ivy, and Peyton. Their power was broken when Chloe left town to hide a secret, and even though she has returned, nothing is the same as it was before. Ivy takes up the mantle of power among the sisters, desperate to restore them to their former glory, claiming any boy they choose, and breaking his heart when they’re done. Their role as antagonists is founded on this villainized sexuality, then built upon by their sense of entitlement, and willingness to exploit other people’s secrets even as they guard their own.

When the Moon Was Ours also draws on the legend of La Llorona, a ghostly woman who haunts the river, crying for her drowned children. The ghost of a similar tragedy hangs over Miel’s past, and her unwillingness to speak about her life before she came out of the water tower, even with Sam, who has trusted her with his deepest secrets.  She is in the habit of consigning the roses that grow from her arm to the river where she hears her mother crying, until the Bonner sisters become determined to seize these “wasted” blooms for their own purposes. This myth adds one more layer to a love story suffused with magic realism, and haunted by tragedy.

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Cover image for The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemoreYou might also like The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

Find more of my book-o-lanterns from previous years

The Weight of Feathers

Cover image for The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemoreby Anna-Marie McLemore

ISBN 978-1-250-05865-2

“On ne marie pas les poules avec les renards. One does not wed hens with foxes.”

The Corbeaus and the Palomas have been rivals for more than twenty years. As travelling performers, every year they cross paths at the Almendro blackberry festival, and their simmering hatred threatens to destroy both shows.  Sixteen-year-old Lace Paloma has just become a mermaid in her family’s river performance, and she knows only what they have told her about the Corbeaus. She has never seen them perform, and tries to steer clear their magia negra. So when she tells off her cousins for beating a young man she assumes to be an Almendro local, none of them realizes that this is the reclusive Cluck Corbeau, who builds the wings in which the Corbeaus perform as they dance through the treetops. And when Cluck carries her to the hospital after a disaster strikes Almendro, he doesn’t realize he has touched la magie noire of the Palomas. But when Lace’s family learns the truth, they cast her out, and Lace seeks out Cluck, determined to free herself of his curse.

The Weight of Feathers is a largely realistic YA romance with just a subtle touch of magic. The Corbeaus—who are descended from French Romani tightrope walkers—hide the feathers that grow beneath their hair, and the Palomas conceal the shimmering scales that fleck their backs inside their mermaid costumes. They each believe that the other possesses dark magic, but can never quite prove that their rivals are responsible for their ill luck. The accident that strikes Almendro, although not well explained at first, is industrial in nature. Superstition and bad blood have caused deaths before, and may yet take another life as the rivalry between the two families rekindles.

At the beginning of the book, the rivalry between the Palomas and the Corbeaus is so pronounced that their accounts of the feud sound like entirely different events, rather than two sides of the same story. Each believes the other possesses black magic, and that a Paloma must never touch a Corbeau without shedding blood. But when Lace and Cluck come together, the accounts begin to overlap and make a kind of sense, as the troubled history of the rival families is revealed. Almendro—a fictional town in California’s Central Valley—is a realistic backdrop that has its own history and problems, facing the difficulties of industrialization and poverty, and the harsh reality of the state’s long drought.

Lace and Cluck’s forbidden romance has definite shades of Romeo and Juliet, although the two warring families are ruled by iron-fisted women: Lace’s Abuela, and Cluck’s mother, Nicole Corbeau. Their rivalry is tinged with disparagement of one another’s heritage, and Cluck also seems to be an odd man out in his own family, bullied by his older brother, unchecked by their mother. Both families have some unhealthy beliefs, and Lace and Cluck are both of an age where they are beginning to ask questions and push back. However, they also have important relationships within their families. Cluck is close to his grandfather, Alain Corbeau, who once worked at the plant in Almendro. Lace’s father is a fierce ally who married into the family, and is willing to challenge the restrictions it places on her. Her Tía Lora is another outsider who married a Paloma. Family in all its complexity is on display here as the teens try to define their identities both within and apart from their circle of relations.

The tension in this story builds slowly, and so many answers are not immediately forthcoming. But McLemore’s atmospheric prose and my own curiosity kept me going. The subtle magical elements also serve as contrasting imagery, further setting the two families apart. Each chapter is headed by a French proverb or a Spanish dicho, which ground Lace and Cluck in their cultural backgrounds. Speaking French or Spanish among themselves is just one of the ways that the families deliberately differentiate themselves from one another, and also keep themselves apart from those who do not share their way of life. Inevitably, I was sucked into the forbidden romance and magic realism, and found myself enjoying the story despite the slow start.

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Etta and Otto and Russell and James

Cover image for Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooperby Emma Hooper

ISBN 978-1-4767-5568-7

“Go, Russell, go do whatever, wherever. Go do it alone, and now, because you want to and you can. You always could have if you wanted to enough.”

Etta Vogel, nee Kinnick, has lived a long life in Davidsdottir, Saskatchewan, on a farm she works with her husband, Otto. Their courtship began decades earlier, when Otto shipped out across the sea, one of many Canadian soldiers who went to fight in France, and they started to exchange letters. But at 82, as Etta’s memory is beginning to slip, she still regrets one thing; she has never seen the sea. So one day, without warning, she packs a bag and sets out, on foot, towards the Atlantic, with a piece of paper in her pocket to remind her who she is and where she is going. When Otto finds Etta’s note, he chooses not to follow after her, instead tracking her imagined progress across the country on his globe. But their life-long neighbour Russell, Otto’s best friend, and one-time rival for Etta’s heart, can’t accept Otto’s inaction, and decides to give chase once he realizes she is gone. But the only companion Etta really needs on her journey is James, a coyote she can talk to. Everyone else, from Russell, to Briony, a reporter who covers the story of her walk, to the public that becomes enchanted with her journey, is superfluous to her mission.

I picked up this title, despite some skepticism about the premise, on the recommendation of a colleague, spurred on by the fact that I was looking to read more Canadian titles in 2016. But the opening lines grabbed me immediately, and I was hooked. It wasn’t so much the idea of Etta’s journey that caught me, though that was romantic enough, but the final line of her letter: “I will try to remember to come back.” Etta is a compelling character not just because she decides to seize what is missing so late in her life, but because she does it in the face of losing herself completely, when it would probably be easier to just give in, and slip away. Etta can only half-remember who she is, but she knows there is something she still wants to do before she dies. Over the decades, Etta and Otto have sort of melded together into one, but now Etta struggles to separate a strand of herself out, even as dementia is slowly stealing her sense of self. Where her own memory gapes, Otto’s memories rush in to fill the void, and no matter how far she walks, she still cannot escape his long buried memories of the war.

Whereas Russell goes haring off after Etta, Otto seems to acknowledge that where once it was Etta’ turn to wait, and hope, and try to do something productive in the meantime, it is now his turn to stay on the farm while his wife goes out into the world. There is a pleasing symmetry to this structure, which is echoed in the way Otto and Etta’s courtship begins with letters during the war, and comes full circle to the epistolary format with Etta’s journey. Alone at home, Otto learns how to cook for himself, and begins building life-size papier-mache animals which he displays in the yard. As the newspapers begin to pick up the story of Etta’s walk, Otto gathers fame more locally when neighbours begin driving by to see his creations. While he waits, he writes to Etta, knowing that there is no way for his letters to find their way to her.

Emma Hooper strikes a delicate balance as she weaves back and forth in time and place, between Etta’s walk, and Otto’s wait, and back to Otto’s journey over the sea, and Etta’s wait, and the choice it forced her to make between two men. Hooper is also a musician, and there is an undeniable rhythm and repetition to her prose style. In addition to the weaving time line, there is also the seamlessly integrated magic realism. Fish skulls speak French, and whisper of the sea, while Etta is accompanied by a talking animal companion who may or may not be real. The reader cannot always be sure what has really happened, or who has said what. Hooper fans out the possibilities. In one sequence, Otto misses a phone call, and he tries to imagine who has that phone number, and what they would have said if he had answered. He is sure the call must have been about Etta, and so he imagines the many possible missteps on her journey that might lead to an emergency phone call home. Etta and Otto and Russell and James requires a degree of comfort with ambiguity, but amply rewards the willing suspension of disbelief.

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Canada Reads Along: Birdie

Cover image for Birdie by Tracey Lindbergby Tracey Lindberg

eISBN 9781443442091

“She has not resigned herself to anything but occupying the space she is in, taking one raspy breath whenever she can, and trying to come back to her skinself. When she does this, she has peace with whatever happens. A knowledge is born in her: that she has been to Then. And. She might not make it back. To Now.”

Bernice “Birdie” Meetoos is a Cree woman from northern Alberta. When we meet her, she is living in Gibsons, British Columbia, in an apartment above the bakery where she works. However, it quickly becomes evident that Birdie is bed-ridden, though the exact reasons for her condition are unclear. From her bed, her mind stumbles through past, present, and future, tracing the path from Loon Lake to Gibsons, through foster care and Catholic school, and years of living rough on the streets of Edmonton. Gathered around Birdie are her boss, Lola, her cousin, Freda, and her aunt Val. The women take turns caring for her, and one another, as Birdie travels through a dream journey where she must face the violence of her past, and the uncertainty of her future.

Birdie drops the reader into the middle of a fragmented stream of consciousness that is hard to settle into. The timelines shift almost unceasingly, as Birdie slips between past and present. She is lost in memory, and yet her awareness is constantly being pulled back to the bakery and the goings on around her, though she reacts to none of it. Author Tracey Lindberg is constantly reminding the reader of the other timeline, so that it is impossible to settle into either one; past and present exist simultaneously. At the same time, we have no idea why Birdie is the way she is. Lindberg continues in this fashion for the first 40% or hundred pages of the book.  As the fragments of Birdie’s past begin to form a tentative picture, the stylistic choice makes sense; Birdie’s mind has been fractured by trauma, and she is struggling to heal. At times she shies away from more difficult memories, and returns to them later. This section seems to function more like a conversation, connecting through loosely related ideas rather than following a linear progression.

Beyond this point, the narrative shifts between Lola, Freda, Val, and Birdie, continuing to incorporate aspects of magic realism. However, the fragmentary narration settles down a bit after this and the story begins to flow more freely. Birdie’s memories and dreams still leach in, but there are longer unbroken expanses of narrative, settled into either the past or the present without interruption from the other. Between chapters, Lindberg inserts the character of a storyteller, who mirrors the story using an owl to represent Birdie, and a wolf to represent those who have preyed on her. These small allegorical representations encapsulate Birdie’s journey in a poetic fashion.

One of the strongest aspects of this book is the way it showcases the relationships between the women, both those who are family by blood, and those have been welcomed into that circle. In a family where the men are not to be trusted, Freda and Birdie have done their best to look out for one another, even when their living conditions make their relationship fraught. Birdie sometimes refers to Freda as her “sistercousin” as words struggle to encapsulate the breadth of their bond. Val in particular has failed her girls more than once, but she continues to love them and protect them when she can. Even Birdie’s mother, Maggie, is a notable woman, if more by her absence from the story than her presence, and the hole that leaves in Birdie’s life, and her inner circle.

On day three of Canada Reads 2016, the questions for the panelists dug into what they loved about their books from storyline to writing style, and also returned to the question of which remaining book best embodied the theme of “starting over.” Panelists had a lot of love for the writing style in The Hero’s Walk, and the fast-moving plot of The Illegal. Defending Birdie, Bruce Poon Tip highlighted the storytelling skill necessary to pull off the nonlinear timeline. He also singled out Birdie as the book that taught him the most, particularly about sisterhood, a subject he said he didn’t realize he needed help understanding until he read the book and had to try to parse the relationship between the women. Birdie did not come up as much in the answers of the other panelists, though Vinay Virmani mentioned the Cree poetry, and Adam Copeland named Birdie as the character who most convinced him people can change because she made an active choice between returning to the world and passing on. Clara Hughes also felt that the character of Lola in Birdie embodied change. However, when it came time to vote, Virmani, Hughes, and Farah Mohamed all cast their ballots against Birdie, sending this title—which has been leading the viewer favourites poll all week—home on day three. The Illegal by Lawrence Hill and The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami will face off tomorrow in the final.

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A Tale for the Time Being

Cover image for A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozekiby Ruth Ozeki

ISBN 978-0-14-312487-0

“Maybe none of these things will happen except in my mind and yours, because, like I told you, together we’re making magic, at least for the time being.”

Do you know what a time being is? I’ll give you a hint; you’re one, and I am one, and Naoko Yasutani, the protagonist of A Tale for the Time Being is one. So is Ruth, the failed memoirist who finds Nao’s diary washed up on the shores of British Columbia sometime after the tsunami that overwhelmed the Fukushima nuclear reactor. And so is the real Ruth Ozeki, the author of this interwoven tale. After Nao’s father loses his job in Silicon Valley during the dot-com bust, their family moves back to Japan, where both Nao and her father find themselves depressed and suicidal. Nao has decided that she is going to “drop out of time” just as she has dropped out of school, but first she is determined to share the life story of her great-grandmother, a 104-year-old Zen Buddhist nun who was once a novelist and a political radical. As Ruth reads Nao’s diary, she becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to the Yasutani family, but they seem to have left no trace behind.

With A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki pushes the boundaries of the novel, and actively interrogates the relationship between the author and the reader. The reader slips into the shoes of Ruth, who fills the role of both author and reader herself. By annotating Nao’s diary, the author both interprets Japanese culture, and also subtly reminds the reader of her presence, both as character and as writer. Interjecting Ruth’s perspective also forces us to read Nao’s story more slowly, which admittedly does not jibe with Ruth’s burning curiosity to find out what happened to Nao, but does give the narrative a pleasing rhythm, and a healthy dose of suspense.

Just as the novel explores the overlapping roles of author and reader, A Tale for the Time Being occupies a space that is both Japanese and American, and yet neither, a situation that is familiar to both Nao, and Ozeki. Nao’s American upbringing leaves her feeling like an alien in Japan, while Ozeki has related being bullied for being Asian in America, causing her to identify with her Japanese heritage, only to later go to Japan and discover how American she truly was. A Tale for the Time Being emerges from this liminal space, and explores these complicated identities.

The novel also emphasizes the interconnected nature of all things, people to one another, and to the environment. Ozeki uses both quantum mechanics (simply explained) and Zen Buddhist concepts (deceptively simple) to draw these connections. Where science and Buddhism blend together, Ozeki infuses her own particular flavour of magic realism, which manifests in strange coincidences, vivid dreams, and recurring natural imagery. This is also the aspect of the novel that is most likely to be divisive. If you can try to accept the connections Ozeki draws between seemingly disparate things, A Tale for the Time Being comes together beautifully. But if you feel it is asking you to stretch too far, it can seem a muddle of intriguing but disconnected elements.

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Boy, Snow, Bird

Cover image for Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemiby Helen Oyeyemi

ISBN 978-1-59463-340-9

“Mirrors see so much. They could help us if they wanted to. In those days I spoke to every mirror in the apartment. I questioned them, told them what to do, but none of them answered me.”

In 1953, twenty-year-old Boy Novak flees her abusive father in New York, landing in the small town of Flax Hill, Massachusetts. Everyone in Flax Hill is an artisan, whereas Boy has no special skills to speak of. She drifts from job to job, and man to man, but keeps coming back to Arturo Whitman, a jewellery maker with a young daughter called Snow. More in love with the idea of being Snow’s mother than with Arturo himself, Boy nevertheless agrees to marry him, becoming the stepmother of a beautiful and sweet-natured girl who is adored by her entire extended family. But when Boy gives birth to her own daughter by Arturo, baby Bird cannot live up to the Whitman’s exacting standards. Suddenly Boy no longer has it in her to love Snow, who she now sees is beloved by her grandparents largely for her particular brand of beauty. Driven apart by this family rift, Boy, her daughter, and her stepdaughter must all face the terrible power of appearances.

Slow-paced but captivating, the first part of Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird is narrated by Boy herself, as she recounts the escape from her abusive father, and settling into her new life in Flax Hill. Events are largely quotidian, but there are occasional strange happenings, particularly when mirrors are involved. This magical element is largely symbolic rather than significant to the development of the plot; the obsession with surface appearances turns out to be a deep one in the Whitman family that Boy marries into. Magical events are never so concrete as to be provable, but they pervade the story nonetheless.

The second section of the story is recounted by thirteen-year-old Bird, who has been raised separately from her half-sister Snow, but retains a powerful curiosity about her. After discovering a letter addressed to her from Snow hidden in her mother’s jewellery box, Bird and Snow begin a covert correspondence eventually culminating in their first meeting since childhood. This section is shifting and slippery, as Bird slides from first person to speaking about herself in the third person, to exchanging letters with her sister.

I expected the final part of the story to rest with Snow, but the narration passes back to Boy instead as the story struggles to regain the momentum it lost in the middle. It is Boy who is tasked with recounting the awkward Thanksgiving dinner that finally breaks open the tensions that have been brewing in the Whitman family for generations. And even Boy, who thought she knew her heritage, is forced to re-examine her assumptions when her best friend, reporter Mia Cabrini, uncovers a long-buried secret about her abusive father. Unfortunately, this final reveal does not fit in well with the rest of the story, and what is intended to provide closure and reunion fractures the story irreparably instead. Oyeyemi draws equivalencies between race and gender here that simply do not stand up to scrutiny, and she handles it with none of the sensitivity and depth she brings to the rest of the story. It is no coincidence that this is also the shortest section of the book; Oyeyemi has simply not done the necessary work to integrate this unexpected twist.

Despite a number of obvious influences and references, Boy, Snow, Bird is only a very loose homage to the tale of Snow White. Boy grapples with her role as the “evil” stepmother to a child who has been taught all her life to believe in an ideal of beauty that excludes Boy’s own daughter. It is less of a retelling and more of an allusion to the question of beauty and vanity that lies at the heart of that story: who is the fairest of them all? Oyeyemi handles these topics masterfully, but falters in the end, leaving this book without the conclusion it deserves.

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The Strange Library

Cover image for The Strange Library by Haruki Murakamiby Haruki Murakami

Translated by Ted Goossen

ISBN 978-0-385-35430-1

“Our worlds are all jumbled together—your world, my world, the sheep man’s world. Sometimes they overlap and sometimes they don’t.”

A boy visits the library on his way home after school to return his books and pick up some new reading material. A librarian he doesn’t recognize refers him down to the basement, where his curiosity and quest for knowledge about tax collection in the Ottoman Empire land him in hot water. Entrapped in the “Reading Room” by a bald old man who plans to fatten up his brains with knowledge before eating them, the boy must find a way to lull his jailor into complacency, and escape without leaving behind the sheep man or the mute girl who are also locked in the labyrinth beneath the library.

Libraries are a recurring theme in Haruki Murakami’s fiction, but rarely are they the benign institutions we are familiar with. They tend to have a certain power, but also a certain darkness. In The Strange Library, the sheep man gives voice to what may be the source of both the power and the suspicion Murakami imbues them with: “If all they did was lend out knowledge for free, what would be the payoff for them?” From this cynicism, Murakami spins a dark and phantasmagoric tale of entrapment and escape. Narrated in a simple, straightforward style that counterpoints the bizarre events, The Strange Library is surreal in the manner of a dream or, in this case, a nightmare. The strangeness goes mostly unremarked within the story and indeed seems almost natural, but when you try to explain it to someone else it sounds completely nonsensical.

This book was first published in Japan in 2005, but is being released in English for the first time, with art direction and design by Chip Kidd who has fashioned it with more attention to form than function. (NB: The edition being published in the UK by Harvill Secker has a different design). Two overlapping cover flaps open up and down, while the pages inside open left to right as usual. The cover flaps need to be folded back and held behind the book while reading, making this slim, trade-sized volume surprisingly ungainly. The text is bulked out with grainy illustrations, and though the chapters are numbered, the pages are not. While the design is interesting, it makes the book somewhat awkward to read. The final paragraph of the book is easy to miss, centered alone on the final page of the book in much smaller type than the rest of the text.  A lot has gone into the visual design of the book, but the attention is more to aesthetics than utility.

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Landline

Cover image for Landline by Rainbow Rowell by Rainbow Rowell

ISBN 978-1-250-04937-7

“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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