Friday, July 11, 2014
Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Rating: 3 Stars
Landline shines brightest when Rowell writes her trademark love stories, complete with authentic relationships, realistic growth arcs, and unforgettable characters. When Rowell tries to veer off that well-trodden path--introducing science-fiction elements of time travel--that's when the cracks in her narrative begin to show. Landline may be a significant improvement over Eleanor & Park, but it struggles to compare with Fangirl or Attachments for me. Perhaps I need to be married to fully appreciate the subtle strength of Rowell's latest?
Georgie McCool's lifelong dream is about to come true--Passing Time, the TV show she's worked on for years, is about to become a reality. But working on Passing Time with her best friend, Seth, means working through the Christmas holidays. Which means staying home while her husband, Neal, and her two daughters, Alice and Noomi, head off to Omaha. It isn't a big deal--not really--but it just may be the last straw in Georgie's marriage. In the Georgie & Neal equation, Neal is the stay-at-home dad--caring for the girls, cooking three meals a day, and decorating their home--while Georgie pursues her dream career of writing comedy TV. As the nights at work get longer, the lonely dinners become all the more frequent, and time spent with her family dwindles down, Georgie is forced to admit that she is taking advantage of Neal. Of who he is, of his limitations, and of his endless patience and love. With Georgie blowing off this visit to Omaha, instead of waiting to make the trip some other time, Neal decides to take off with the girls and visit his mother.
Stuck in LA, working, the last thing Georgie wants is to return to her empty home at the end of a long day. Thus, she decides to stay at her mother's place--complete with her step-dad who's only three years older than her, a younger sister who feels more like a niece than a sibling, and prize-winning pugs. When Georgie dials Neal's home phone from her years-old yellow landline, she somehow winds up talking to Past Neal--specifically, Neal, the week before he proposed to her. Neal, the week he broke up with her and went to Omaha for Christmas and returned, only to propose to her on Christmas morning. Now, Georgie can't help but wonder if this is all just a design of fate; if she's meant to speak to Past Neal and fix the future--to convince him not to marry her after all. Because, maybe, after all these years together, their love just isn't enough.
I am head-over-heels in love with the premises of Landline; of the concept that love may not be enough to make a relationship work. When Georgie marries Neal in her 20s, she's confident that love is all they need. In fact, she could never have imagined a situation where she and Neal were apart. Now, Neal and Georgie can't even seem to catch each other on the phone, let alone patch up their marriage. Landline flips back and forth on the George & Neal time span, chronicling their first few awkward meetings, the slow manner in which they fell in love, the petty hurdles in their path--from Neal's high school girlfriend Dawn to Seth, Georgie's best friend and work partner whose good looks and easy manner always made him seem like more from the outside--to their marriage, their two beautiful girls, and how the home they'd built for themselves slowly fell apart. Rowell has a true talent for pacing and narration as she weaves these moments around Georgie's present-day work struggles as well as her conversations with Past Neal and it works. It never feels overwhelming or dull, rather drawing in the reader and exposing the underbelly of this relationship we cannot help but root for from page one.
I love how Rowell is able to, seamlessly, take us through the course of a marriage and the emotions she inspires are so raw; they demand to be felt. While her prose is simple--not the flowery beauty of Laini Taylor or Maggie Stiefvater--it nevertheless manages to hit all the right cords within our hearts. It is so unimaginably difficult to watch Georgie slowly unravel as she aches to stay behind and achieve her dream, but she also desperately wants to fix her marriage; a marriage that she knows is her fault for ruining. Although her flaws rise to the surface of this tale as she struggles with the knowledge that she was never as considerate to Neal as he was to her during the course of their relationship, they only serve to make Georgie all the more endearing as a heroine as she is pushing away Past Neal in a last-ditch effort to allow Present Neal to live a happier life without her. It's all so, so heartbreaking.
Yet, where this novel truly faltered for me was through the entire concept of Past Neal. I find it fascinating to explore a relationship by juxtaposing two difficult time frames side-by-side, but Rowell never fully dives into the idea of time travel in Landline. In some ways, I expected this as Rowell is--firmly--a contemporary author. Thus, I wasn't too disappointed by this fact, but the "magical phone," as Georgie comes to call it, only continued to deter this novel. By the end of Landline we've grown to know Past Neal far better than Present Neal--and this is a problem. It is a problem primarily because Past and Present Neal are two such different people and though we grow to love both of them from Georgie's memories, we fail to witness much of Present Neal and Georgie work through their relationship. Moreover, the present-day scenes grew rather repetitive after awhile; Georgie misses Neal, Georgie tries calling Neal, Georgie doesn't get through to Neal, Georgie tries to work, Georgie can't work, Georgie thinks about the magical phone, etc. It was a repeat of the same motions and though I understood its significance, my interest wavered throughout the story as I became engaged during the flashbacks, disengaged during the present-day repetitive scenes, engaged again during Georgie and Past Neal's discussions, and once again disengaged when they ended.
Ultimately, Landline works beautifully as a novel that showcases the realities of marriage past the honeymoon phase but aspects of this story failed to resonate with me as much as I'd have liked. I ended this Rowell novel wanting more--which isn't necessarily a bad thing--but it's not the most positive emotion to feel about a conclusion either.