Home » OL Weekly

Book Review: Landline

By (July 13, 2014) No Comment

Landlinelandline cover

by Rainbow Rowell

St. Martin’s, 2014


If your past called—literally—would you accept the charges? Moreover, would you return the call and have a conversation capable of tinkering with time and fate? Surely only someone truly conflicted would risk rearranging the inter-woven fibers of the present. Someone like Georgie McCool.

Georgie is the self-indulgent, neurotic center around which Landline, the new adult novel by teen author Rainbow Rowell (Eleanor and Park), revolves. As the busy writer of an up-and-coming television comedy, Georgie is preoccupied with deadlines. Tasked with writing multiple episodes around Christmas-time, she comes home to her husband, Neal, deflated. She, Neal, and their daughters Alice and Noomi are booked for a white Christmas in Omaha, where Neal’s mother lives. Realizing where her priorities lie, Neal angrily insists on taking the trip without Georgie. Even before leaving, Neal is understandably distant and gruff toward Georgie for once again picking work over family. In their week apart, Georgie is left in California to obsess, and even reconsider, her marriage.

As Neal’s college-sweetheart who wed him shortly after graduation, Georgie wonders whether she knew what she was doing at the age of twenty-three. Can marriage last on love alone, or perhaps a fundamental incompatibility between her and Neal is coming to a head? She’s tried calling him several times. For every day in Omaha that Neal doesn’t return her calls, Georgie’s mind wanders, crowding every chapter with hypothetical scenarios and memories. She dwells, in part, on the relationship Neal has with their daughters. It’s a bond Georgie doesn’t share, having never truly invested the time to learn their favorite food and clothing. Georgie imagines that, should they divorce, Neal would win custody.

Georgie can’t bring herself home to an empty house, so she spends most nights at her mother’s. Her dysfunctional cell phone battery forces her to use the landline in her old bedroom. Seven digits later, Neal finally picks up the phone. Only this isn’t her husband. Well—not yet, anyway. The Neal on the phone is her boyfriend from 1998.

Confused and feeling crazy for accepting the unfathomable, Georgie becomes convinced she’s got “a magic fucking phone.” Though she can only speculate how and why this is happening, she concludes that this is her chance to either maintain the status quo, or prevent Neal from ever proposing to her on Christmas Day, 1998.

On the sidelines is concerned best friend and co-worker, Seth. He’s been by Georgie’s side in the past and in the present. Not in Omaha, but with her in person—he exists solely for the reader to anticipate infidelity:

I know him, Georgie. I’ve been sitting one seat away from him my whole fucking life. I secondhand-smoke know him. It’s like we’ve got shared custody of you.”

“…No. Neal is my husband. He has full custody.”

Then why isn’t he here trying to figure out what’s wrong with you?”


Because why?”

Because I fucked up!”

Seth was angry. “Because you didn’t go to Omaha?”

Most recently because I didn’t go to Omaha. Because I never go to Omaha…. I mean, metaphorically. I always choose the show. I’m forever not going to Omaha.”

Maybe you should ask yourself why not, Georgie.”

Maybe I should.”

Seth stared at his lap. Georgie stared at hers. This wasn’t them—Seth and Georgie never fought. Or rather, they always fought; they bickered and they insulted and they mocked. But they never fought about anything that mattered.

Though Georgie isn’t sorry for loving her career, she is sorry for the unhappiness it’s caused Neal. She wishes, at times, that she could spare him the frustration.

Anxiety and imagination aside, the situation remains merely this: Georgie has been selfish with her priorities, her husband is frustrated and in Omaha with their daughters for one week. The magic landline’s appearance is perhaps the only notable event since the novel’s open—leaving the reader to slog through nearly one-hundred-and-fifty pages of missed calls, voicemails, and nostalgia. The magic phone is not a time machine.

It does only two things in the course of the novel: one, it rings. And two, by letting her talk with past-Neal, it helps her realize that she should go to Omaha (both metaphorically and literally.) It’s unfortunate that Georgie needs a reality-call from 1998 to help ease her conscious and marriage.

The scenarios in which Georgie considers altering her present—by convincing young Neal not to marry her—amount to a mental ball of hot air, rolling downhill from dreamland. Emotions pile up, and the reader is left to remember that hypothetical scenes—much like alternate realities—carry no weight. Landline is composed almost entirely of things that only happen in Georgie’s mind: moot fears and anecdotes.

Landline is considered adult fiction.Despite the category jump, to potentially expand Rowell’s fan-base, there is no essential difference between this and a teen novel. The prose is consistently rudimentary; the plot frustratingly linear.While Georgie and Neal are indeed married, there’s nothing especially unique or mature about their situation:

It’s more like you meet someone, and you fall in love, and you hope that that person is the one—and then at some point you have to put down your chips. You just have to make a commitment and hope that you’re right.

What was true for Rowell’s love-struck teenagers, Eleanor and Park, is true for Neal and Georgie:

You’re tossing a ball between you, and you’re just hoping you can keep it in the air. And it has nothing to do with whether you love each other or not. If you didn’t love each other, you wouldn’t be playing the stupid game with the ball. You love each other, and you hope you can keep the ball in play.

Landline is a dramedy that distracts from its mediocre execution with sentimental appeal. We can’t change what was, but we can surely harness the present.

More importantly, when Landline comes calling, perhaps it’s best to disconnect.