I’m always wary of new books. It’s probably a holdover from high school when the only contemporary fiction I read was inspirational fiction, a genre I have since dumped for, well, just about anything. So when my roommate texted me during Christmas break two years ago and told me I HAD to read this book called Fangirl, I was skeptical. I’m pretty sure my exact thoughts were, “I read classics now, not YA.” But my roommate’s enthusiasm overwhelmed my snobbish inclinations, and when I finally got my hands on a copy that February, I had to admit Fangirl was pretty good. But I didn’t love it. Not like my roommate.
Then came Eleanor & Park. Recommended by a professor and carried home over spring break, I considered it a last resort. I still had mixed feelings about Fangirl and was in that awkward, formative stage of my reading life where inspirational fiction made me gag but books with sex and cursing still made me squirm. It seems ridiculous to me now, but at the time I was only two semesters removed from thinking that just reading about those things would send me to hell. But my professor’s recommendation just wouldn’t stop playing through my mind, so I picked it up one afternoon and read it straight through. Absolutely inhaled it. In fact, I don’t think I put it down once, except to text a friend that they HAD to read this.
And that pretty much sums up my feelings about Rainbow Rowell. You HAVE to read her books.
Landline is no exception.
I approached it warily, like all the rest, but only because it didn’t seem like my kind of book. Reading about Georgie McCool’s failing marriage just didn’t appeal to me. Thanks to summer, Facebook, and my CofC school in Tinytown, Arkansas, I’d seen enough about marriage to last me a lifetime; the last thing I wanted was to read a whole book about it (no matter how cool the protagonist’s last name was).
But Landline isn’t your typical romance novel. For one thing, it involves a magic phone. For another, its main character is freaking fantastic.
I hesitate to say that Georgie McCool is a strong female character, because that phrase means different things to different people. Mostly it conjures images of supermodels who kick butt in heels and skin tight skirts, and that’s not the image I want to evoke. What I mean when I say Georgie is a strong female character is this: she is smart and funny and flawed — a woman who knows herself and isn’t afraid to show it. She’s also amazingly realistic in that she’s a cross between working professional and walking human disaster.
In short, Georgie McCool was exactly the character I needed after spending a semester studying women’s lit.
Landline follows Georgie through the last few days of the Christmas season, when her life is full of anything but holiday cheer. She and her writing partner Seth have just received news that a big-name producer is interested in backing their original comedy show, meaning they can ditch their sucky job for a dream one. There’s just one catch: the producer wants the scripts before New Year’s.
To meet the deadline, Georgie cancels her plans to spend Christmas in Omaha with her in-laws. But she feels miserable about it; Neal (her husband) seems more distant than ever, and by the time Georgie finally gets in touch with him, she’s beginning to wonder why they ever got married in the first place. But that question isn’t nearly as troubling as the realization that Georgie isn’t talking to Neal. At least, not her Neal. (Remember that magic phone I told you about? Here’s where it comes in.) Somehow, Georgie is able to communicate with past!Neal on the old yellow rotary in her childhood home. Once Georgie figures it out, she knows this connection is the key to fixing her marriage. But the question is, should she fix it the conventional way, or by making sure it never happens in the first place?
There are a lot of things I love about this book. The wit, the humor, the fact that it’s chock-full of 90s pop-culture. There’s almost nothing wrong with it. In fact, I can’t think of a single negative thing to say. But what I love most about Landline is that it so easily could have been something else. Something different. Something less. Yes, it’s a book about marriage, but it’s also a book about love. Real love. Messy love. Love that doesn’t always want to do the right thing or be the bigger person. It’s a book whose protagonist is both a mom and a writer, but it’s not about Georgie’s struggle to choose between career or kids. Yes, that tension drives the novel, but Rowell doesn’t cheapen her characters by forcing Georgie to pick. Instead, she strikes a balance.
By defying the average and refusing to cater to society’s dualistic standards, Landline transcends the typical romance novel to become something better, something maybe even great. Yeah, okay, it has a magic phone. So what? I was skeptical too, at first. But I’m telling you, Landline is worth it; Rainbow Rowell has struck again. 4.5/5 stars.