"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Friday, August 14, 2015

Review #35: Landline, by Rainbow Rowell

I've been sitting on this review for a while because I'm not really sure how I feel about this book. (Well, that, plus I'm lazy. And real life keeps interrupting. And the Kid wants food, like, every day, and Boss expects me to be sort of productive at work, so... book reviews tend to fall to the wayside at times.) In any event, I'm not sure how I feel about Landline. I loved Attachments, which was my first Rowell book, and I feel that if you didn't love Eleanor & Park, you just aren't human. But Landline... I don't know.

By now you know the synopsis. TV writer Georgie McCool and her BFF from college Seth finally have an opportunity to get their own show, the way they want it, which is an opportunity they've been waiting for for years. The only hitch: they have to knock out several episodes in under a couple of weeks, and it falls right over the Christmas holidays, and right over the time where Georgie, her husband Neal, and their two daughters are supposed to be at Neal's mom's house in Omaha. Georgie feels like she needs to stay behind and realize her dream, and Neal takes the girls to Omaha without her. Unsteady and unsure of the state of her marriage, Georgie begins to teeter emotionally and winds up at her mom's house, where she plugs in her old landline phone to call Neal... and when she does, she reaches the Neal of the past, before they were married, before kids and jobs and the history of a million little hurts came between them.

It's an interesting concept, this magical phone, and it's a testament to Rowell's clever writing that at no point does the reader ever say, "What the hell? A magical phone???" You just sort of buy in to it, and you have to know that there's no explanation ever given for this phone, by the way, which sort of irked me, but at the same time, it's a fiction novel, and I'm willing to suspend my disbelief for a little while because it's Rainbow and I love Rainbow (in a totally non-stalker way of course).

At times, it feels like there's nothing really wrong in Georgie and Neal's marriage. Nobody cheated, nobody is running around lying or spending money they don't have. There's just a general malaise. Georgie feels unimportant and unnecessary, and Neal feels unappreciated. But sometimes, that general malaise can be more devastating to a relationship than the nuclear bomb of something like an affair. It's more insidious, I think, and sometimes, I wonder if it's harder to undo. At times, I wanted to grab Georgie and scream at her, telling her she has to realize how unhappy Neal is, and ask how she could possibly choose her career over her family like that. But then I'd think, well, men do that all the time, and nobody would expect Neal to be there Christmas morning if the roles were reversed, so why shouldn't she get to chase her dream? And I got very frustrated with Neal: he made the decision to stay home, to take the role of the primary parent, and if he is unhappy in that role, then it's time to have a conversation with Georgie about it. But he's trying, in his way, to be the supportive spouse, to help her realize her dream, and so he gets points for that.

There are no clear winners here. If Georgie gives up her dream of this show to stay home with Neal and the kids and have a more "normal" existence, then she's giving up something she's wanted for years. And if she chases her dream, she risks losing Neal, the kids, and everything she thought she wanted. And it doesn't appear that there's a compromise available, at least not right now. Because we all know how it goes. One spouse promises that it will "only be for a year", but that one year turns in to two, turns in to seven, and before you know it, you're ships passing in the night, and you can't stand each other, and the marriage goes out not with a bang, but with a whimper. So how do you fix that? Can you fix that? Do you even want to? Or is this just how it's supposed to be? 

I don't know the answer to that. My marriage went out with a bang, not a whimper, but if I'm honest, there was some whimpering before the final implosion. So I'm definitely not the expert here. And I don't think Georgie is either. Actually, I know Georgie isn't, and neither is Neal. Maybe none of us are.

I've written and rewritten this review a hundred times. (Not really a hundred. But a lot.) And I still don't know how I feel about it. A Cannonball reviewer I read awhile ago (and I can't find it now, of course) said recently that a book hit too close to home for her to be objective abut it, and I think maybe that's my problem with Landline. It hit too close to home, but in subtle ways. I certainly am not a show runner, and my former husband is definitely no Neal, but some of the underlying angst and resentment that they felt...I quite identified with that. Maybe Landline just picked at old wounds. I still love Rainbow, but I don't think I'll revisit this one.

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