Georgie is a TV comedy writer in Los Angeles, working alongside her best friend, Seth. They’ve been partners since high school, and her husband, Neal, has learned to deal with it. Neal stays home and takes care of their two daughters, Alice and Noomi, until the Christmas that Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go with them to his mother’s house in Omaha because she and Seth have to write four scripts for the new show that will be the big break they’ve always wanted. Neal takes the girls and leaves, and through a series of strange occurrences, Georgie and Neal can never connect after that, although Georgie is able to reach the girls several times. Is Neal doing this on purpose? Wait, did he just leave her for good?
Georgie doesn’t want to go to her own empty house, so she ends up staying at the house where she grew up, along with her flirty mother, whose new husband is only three years older than Georgie, and his daughter, Heather. Something strange is happening on the landline phone in her childhood bedroom, and suddenly, Georgie’s driven, Hollywood life goes screeching off into a ditch. Because of Neal’s silence, she is forced to take a hard look at the choices she’s made, not just for herself, but for Neal and the girls, as well.
Rainbow Rowell raises some terrifying questions in this engrossing novel, such as: If you could put your finger on the moment in your life that is the crossroads, would you make a less selfish choice and change your life forever? Would you do it if you knew that you would suffer, but the ones you loved would be happier? What is a marriage, and why did you marry the person you’re with? Do you even make conscious decisions at all, or do you just go along with the path of least resistance?
I’ve read all four Rainbow Rowell novels now, and this one brought to light a particular talent of hers: Ms. Rowell writes completely loveable male characters. Oh, sure, she can write an ogre like Eleanor’s stepfather, too, but her quiet heroes are wonderful in a way that only men can be. Lincoln, in Attachments, is so tentative that you want to give him a pep talk, but he is kind to his mother and even to the old woman he shares his dinner with. Park is amazing (and has parents that make you proud to be a parent), and Levi, in Fangirl, is adorable. In Landline, you’re so convinced of Neal’s goodness that you don’t know what you want Georgie to do. Well, you do want a happy ending, but even though Georgie is the main character, you’re pretty sure that Neal is a much better person than she is. He’s so worthy of her love, but you’re not sure she’s worthy of him. That is such an achievement for a writer! Georgie is a great gal, but the reader’s emotions are conflicted because the male character is so noble.
This is, at its most basic, a novel about marriage—marriage as the most fundamental, life-changing relationship that it is possible to have. Georgie realizes that she has taken her marriage for granted, just because it’s so easy to do that when another person ceases to exist as “other,” and instead becomes intertwined into the self. Rowell’s gift for dialogue shines here, but she also has a couple of beautiful and witty passages that I’m dying to quote for you, but I read an advance reader copy, so I can’t do that. I highly recommend the book for adults and older teens. If you’re married, it will make you want to go hug your spouse. If you’re not married, it will make you want to skip over the cool guys or the gorgeous guys and look for the good guys.
*Coming in July, 2014. If you plan to borrow it from the library, get in line now.
Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book, provided by McMillan Publishers. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.