Review: Landline

Landline by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I was reading this, I enjoyed it very much. It’s inventive: I love the device of the old yellow rotary phone that enables Georgie to reconnect with her husband, Neal, 15 years in the past. (I thrilled to the tiny Doctor Who references, even to the “Let’s Kill Hitler” episode.) What would you do if you could communicate with your younger self or with your partner in the past? How do you decide if you both might have been better off if you’d let your relationship die before it became entrenched? And, even if you’re not quite happy, there are the kids – sacrificing the relationship means the kids would never exist. Could you live with that?

Cleverness and readability aside, there’s the story. Now that I’ve stepped away from it for a day, it rankles me. Rowell never shows the reader what’s so great about Neal anyway. He pouts, he resents his wife’s drive and success, he never finds his rudder or life goal, and so he ruins the party. Yes, he’s broody and artistic. How long can that stay entertaining? I didn’t think that Georgie should end up with Seth, but I did wish she would end up with someone who didn’t try to hide her light.

Of course, in real life, you can never know what holds a couple together. It just isn’t always visible from outside. Yes, she worked too much and took her family for granted. I’m glad that part of her story’s resolution is that she wants to prioritize them more. But, can you imagine, in 2014, a celebrated novel that focuses on a stay-at-home mom in glittery tv LA who petulantly leaves her husband on the cusp of his big break like this? It may not have been Rowell’s intention, but this story punishes women with professional aspirations. Yuck.

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