Landline by Rainbow Rowell
In this novel, a TV comedy writer is separated from her husband and two young girls at Christmastime so that she can work on writing a new show on a tight deadline. Georgie’s not on great terms with her husband Neil when he leaves, and she listlessly calls him from a landline phone at her mother’s house. This magic phone calls the past, and she ends up talking to her husband from 15 years earlier, before they were married. At that moment in time, Georgie and Neil had just had a serious fight that ended in a proposal. Georgie’s moral dilemma is whether she needs to make sure this proposal happens through wooing the younger version of her husband, or tell him to get out now for his own sake, to prevent his future/present unhappiness.
I enjoyed this book immensely. Some of my enjoyment came from nostalgia, from imagining myself and my husband in the place of the protagonists, juxtaposing our dating days with our current lives. It hit every nostalgia button I have through its juxtaposition of sweet, thrilling college courtship with the tired, disconnected, romance-less lives of parents. Like Georgie, I had lots of delicious long-distance phone conversations with my college sweetheart before we got married. I remember the anguish of fighting with a boyfriend over the phone, calling and going to voice mail, tense apologies and dramatic promises. Neil and Georgie are only 7 or 8 years older than me, so I was able to get most of the references. I’m old enough to remember what talking on a landline phone was like, at least.
Much of the pleasure of this book comes from anticipating a much-needed reunion. The obstacles Rowell throws up to delay this reconciliation are sometimes ridiculous, but almost always entertaining. I was surprised at the amount of tension she was able to create, given a time travel plot that seems to predetermine the ending. I raced through the last part of the book, longing for resolution almost as much as Georgie.
In some ways, I found the ending too easy. Too many questions were left unanswered. Georgie paid zero attention to the writing work she was supposed to be doing for the entire second half of the book; will she pay for saving her marriage with a lost opportunity in her career? Georgie makes a resolution to ‘do better’ with Neil, but Rowell doesn’t show us the hard choices that ‘doing better’ requires. I would have liked a ‘one year later’ epilogue or something to show what happened with some of the untied narrative strings. Was Georgie able to follow through on her resolution? How did Georgie’s reprioritizing her marriage and family affect her professional life? Was she able to have it all, or did something have to give? Did Georgie’s trying harder mean that things were better for Neil? Did he make changes in his own life once Georgie gave him the time and space to? An open ending is nice for allowing readers to answer these questions for themselves, and thus avoiding offense, but I’m really interested in what Rainbow Rowell would consider to be a happy ending with regard to all these issues.