Thursday, July 3, 2014

Book Review: Landline, by Rainbow Rowell

Title: Landline
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: July 8, 2014
Read: June 2014
Where It Came From: BEA
Genre: General fiction
Rating: 4.5 Metallica T-Shirts

The Quick and Dirty:

Landline is a perfect beach read, a novel that is gripping, affecting, and page-turning. This isn’t a surprise, seeing that it is written by Rainbow Rowell, whose 2013 YA releases proved she has a style that is easy-to-read and content that is equally funny and tender. In Landline Rowell takes her skill at focusing on the little moments of relationships—dialogue that has ellipses from awkwardness, half smiles, hand holding, and where eyes are looking—and seamlessly applies it to a 17-year relationship from its first date to a time when there are children and careers to balance.

The Wordy Version:

When Georgie McCool gets an opportunity to pitch her dream show, she has to cancel her family Christmas plans to get scripts written by their deadline. Her husband, Neal, says he understands her need to work through the holiday, but takes their two young daughters to his mother’s home in Nebraska for the week, and then never picks up his cell phone when Georgie calls. Panicking because she hasn’t spent more than a day without talking to Neal in 15 years, Georgie resorts to dialing her mother-in-law’s landline from her own mother’s house phone, and Neal comes on the line.

It takes only a few conversations for Georgie to realize that she’s not talking to her husband Neal, but to her college boyfriend Neal, a younger, perhaps more affectionate version of himself with dreams for the future that she knows he won’t realize once he marries her. As Georgie becomes useless at work, she talks longer and longer with Neal of her past, trying to figure out if she should encourage him to break up with her before he ruins her life, and simultaneously desperate to heal her relationship with her husband.

I could absolutely see why Georgie is so torn about whether love means encouraging Neal to choose a Georgie-less direction for his life. Neal is amazing: he’s patient, accepting, encouraging, self-sacrificing, creative, funny, honorable. When Georgie realizes that he’s also been miserable for years, she thinks that she has gotten far more from their relationship than she’s given to Neal in return. I love that Georgie, even while listening to her mother claim that the marriage is over, has no regrets for herself in the marriage. I love that she loves Neal the way he deserves based on the scenes we see of him. I love that there was another romantic direction she could have gone as a college student or recent alum, and she doesn’t really pause to believe that that would have been a good idea. But mostly I love Neal.

I’ve already listed adjectives that describe Neal in the most flattering of terms, so it may seem redundant to dwell on how great he is here. But Neal was more swoon-worthy than any hero of a romance novel, and I’m not sure how you’ll believe me if I don’t keep saying it. Young Neal is the guy I wish I had met in college. He goes to a party he knows he won’t like just so he can talk to Georgie. He banters. He’s solid and appreciates Georgie’s dreams. He talks to Georgie on the phone for hours. Furthermore Neal is the husband I dream of having. He’s a stay-at-home dad who lets his preschooler pretend to be a cat to the point that there is a bowl of milk on the floor for her. He cooks kale for dinner. He paints murals on all their west-facing walls. I’m totally in love with him.

And I’m basically in love with Rainbow Rowell too, because it takes skill to make characters seem perfect and yet human (in Neal fairness, Neal does give Georgie the silent treatment, and he sulks at parties), and even more skill to make me willing to relinquish my dream husband to the character he actually married. Plus she manages to make her books almost impossible to put down. Yet another thing to love.

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