Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell


Title: Landline

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.

18 comments:

  1. It does sound like to much emphasis was on the past than the future. I didn't realize this was a time traveling sort of read (in a way). I don't even know how I missed that.

    I am still really hoping that I will like this one but I don't think I will make it a priority to read anytime soon.

    Great honest review!

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  2. I'm so glad that you love Fangirl so much too, Keertana! I thought I was the only one who loves it more than Eleanor and Park haha. ;) Anyways, Landline has really great premise. I love the whole idea of magical phone and talking with the past character. It's too bad that Rowell doesn't take the time travel aspect to its most. You're right, Rowell's prose is beautiful - it's simple yet it's so powerful. <3

    Beautiful review, Keertana! <3 I haven't yet read Attachment, but I think I'd pick it up since you love it so much. Hopefully I'll love her adult books as much as her YA books! x)

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  3. There is this thing when I actually don't like that contemporary writers throw in some elements of sci-fi. I mean it's a nice try, but I assume that Rowell is the best in her contemporary pants :) I haven't read anything by this author, though. I cannot wait to read Fangirl. Sorry this one wasn't as good as you hoped. Great review, Keertana :)

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  4. It's kind of a relief to find somebody who doesn't seem to think that Rainbow Rowell can do no wrong. I haven't had the chance to read any of her books yet, but am excited to do so. Thanks for this review!

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  5. I have yet to read anything by Rainbow, to be honest, though I do own Eleanor and Park. I'm curious to check out her work though...especially Fangirl, because i think I could really relate.

    As for Landline, sounds like it would have been better as a straight up contemporary. I do like the premise of love not being enough though.

    -Lauren

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  6. When I realized there was a magic phone, I started to get nervous. Magical realism isn't really my thing. I've read other books that have combined magical realism with women's fiction, books in which the main character magically travels backwards or forwards in time to gain insight into their marriage (What Alice Forgot or Time of My Life) and I had no idea this book was going in that direction.

    But, since I've loved every RR book thus far, I will (apprehensively) give this a try.

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  7. Thank you for such an honest review, Keertana! I'm sorry you had some issues with Landline. I've been thinking I'll have similar concerns, so I'm still not sure if I'll read this one. Maybe, I'll try one of her other books instead. Amazing review!

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  8. I agree, it's both a good thing and a bad thing to feel about the ending

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  9. Hm... this does sound like something I want to read and I have yet to read one of her books. Even with that ending (I do get what you mean) I think this is something I would enjoy. Yep! Onto the wishlist!

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  10. I'm not a huge fan of Rowell, but I liked Fangirl. I was skeptical about Landline and eventually decided to give it a shot. I too had issues with this book. I couldn't find why the concept of magical phone was introduced in this novel. Flipping back and forth between past and present was exasperating. As you mentioned, her writing is simple but it failed to connect with me as well. Well thought out and a beautiful review,Keertana!!

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  11. My favorite Rowell book is Fangirl as well. This is not the first lackluster review I've read for Landline but I'm still inclined to read it just to see how it will fare with me. I'm scared that I won't connect with this novel as well since I'm not yet married and that sci-fi aspect would feel to hollow for me, but now I know what to expect, so maybe I could curb some of my expectations to a minimum. Thank you for the honest review, Keertana! :)

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  12. I am glad that this one worked out nicely for you despite a few quibbles. I actually got this one in the mail a week ago but am not really sure if I would like it but now you mention whether love is enough to have a happy marriage intrigues me.

    Lovely review, Keertana! <33

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  13. I bought this audiobook but now I'm a little worried I won't like it as much as Attachments. I'd want to see these two work things out in the future more that visit the past, but I guess we'll see how it plays out. Hmm...lowering expectations now. Great review, Keertana! :)

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  14. I haven't read anything by this author but I have been curious about this book.

    I'm pleased you liked it despite a few issues, the premise does sound wonderful.

    A lovely review

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  15. I've definitely been curious about this one because the premises makes this sound somewhat like a second chance romance but the idea of a book that focuses more on the past than the present is kind of a turn off for me.

    I am glad that you managed to enjoy this in spite of some of the issues but it's a pity that it didn't measure up to some of Rowell's other works for you. :(

    Gorgeous review as always, Keertana! :)

    Rashika @ The Social Potato

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  16. With every new review I read, I slowly lose interest in reading this. It has few things that might easily be hit or miss for me.
    Great review, Keertana!

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  17. Hmm. I'm not sure I'm going to read this now. I'm really disappointed that Georgie doesn't spend more time with present Neal, or really work on her relationship with him. Though I do like the idea of exploring the realities of marriage years along. I love the way that Rainbow Rowell examines people and our world, so i am curious how she tackles this subject. But I'm a bit hesitant about the magical telephone, and really worried about Seth's role in this book. I've seen several concerning discussions about him. BUt I'm glad that this won you over as a whole!

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  18. To be honest, I didn't love Fangirl and I've been wondering whether it's just that one book, or perhaps more indicative of Rowell's writing in general. I really like the idea of a magical realism-infused contemporary, although it is saddening to learn that the non-contemporary elements don't seem to work very well. I'm glad you found some aspects to really enjoy, even if not everything works. Perhaps I'll read Attachments instead.

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