Saturday, August 9, 2014

Weekly Book Review: Landline

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Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Released: July 8th
Genre: Romance


Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it's been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply—but that almost seems besides the point now.

Maybe that was always besides the point.

Two days before they're supposed to visit Neal's family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can't go. She's a TV writer, and something's come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her—Neal is always a little upset with Georgie—but she doesn't expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she's finally done it. If she's ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It's not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she's been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she's supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

[From Rainbow Rowell's official website.]


Landline is of a different genre and for a different audience than Rowell's normal fare. While all of her books could accurately be dubbed "romance," her most popular novels, Fangirl and Eleanor & Park (both of which have been reviewed on this very blog), are young adult romance, while Landline is a romance of the chick-lit variety. I am not a chick-lit person. Keep that in mind as you read this review.

Like all of Rowell's books, Landline is stocked with funny, snappy dialogue and appropriately quirky characters. Not all of the characters are particularly well-drawn, but Neal, the true subject of the novel despite Georgie's "main character" status, is both complex and interesting. Georgie is a goal-oriented woman with ambitions and all the worries that come with such. Unfortunately, her goals never seem quite as important to her as we're told they are, as this book is less about Georgie and more about Neal, Neal, Neal.

In fact, Landline could use more "showing" when it comes to certain aspects of all of our main characters. We're told that Seth and Georgie are funny people, talented enough to earn their own TV show, but we're never shown any of their hilarity. We're just to take the book's assertion that it is so at face value. Neither ever does anything particularly funny. They hardly even crack a joke. Neal, an artist, has a better excuse for his talent's lack of detail, but aside from a cute scene with a cartoon Georgie, his art is just as formless as his wife's funny.

The present-day timeline is a cycle that rarely deviates from itself. Georgie wakes up, goes to work, struggles to stay focused, leaves, goes to her mother's house, exchanges some witty dialogue with her family, tries to call present-Neal to no avail, and finally calls past-Neal by way of an inexplicable phone-shaped temporal distortion. You could skip over everything but the phone calls without missing anything of importance. It gets tiring, and these sections are almost solely responsible for my excessively slow journey through this book.

Luckily, the frequent temporal interludes bear the brunt of the action. These are far more akin to the brilliance of Rowell's other works: moving and demonstrative of relationships grounded in something like reality. They come in two flavors: pure flashback and time-bending conversations between a middle-aged Georgie and twenty-something Neal. Both have their strengths, and both are good enough to make me wish Rowell had done away with the magical telephone conceit entirely and written a more traditional but more focused college-age romance more akin to Fangirl.

The overall effect of the landline's time-bending power is fairly predictable. I doubt the conclusion will shock anyone, but neither will it disappoint. This is, overall, a very safe novel that chooses to use its sci-fi element for emotional rather than speculative effect. Don't come here looking for any serious contemplation on the nature of time travel.

If chick-lit is your thing, give Landline a go. Despite the book's faults, it is a well-written exploration of romance through a sheer time-travel gauze.

As Landline is the first chick-lit book I've ever read (seriously), I've got no basis by which to recommend another read. Anyone who's got an idea, feel free to leave it in the comments!

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