Landline, Or Why It Isn’t Always A Good Idea To Experiment With Genres

Landline

Our Rating

Georgie McCool is a successful sitcom writer who, after spending years working on the show she isn’t quite enjoying, gets a chance to make her dream project come true. Problem is, she and her writing partner Seth have only 10 days to write 4 scripts for said project. On Christmas. Bye-bye, family time!

After Georgie’s not so happy husband Neal takes off with their daughters to Omaha, Nebraska, to visit his mother, Georgie finds it hard to stay alone in their empty house and moves back into her parents’ place for a few days. Her cell phone battery keeps acting up, making Georgie use an antique landline phone she bought years ago at a yard sale to call Neal in Omaha. Strange thing happens though – Georgie soon realizes that she’s not talking to the present day Neal but to the Neal from 1998 – the year they also spent Christmas Eve apart. The year when Neal drove all the way from Omaha to California to propose to Georgie on a Christmas day.

Unable to reach the real Neal – he’s always out shoveling the driveway, or on a grocery shopping run, or at the neighbor’s house – Georgie revels in her nightly conversations with the Neal from the past as she hopes to figure out how to fix her relationship with her husband in the present day.

In the meantime, the project deadline is coming closer and Seth keeps pressuring Georgie, subtly blaming Neal for her distracted mind. The life at home is no less crazy as well – Georgie gets to help deliver her mother’s pug’s puppies on the same days she learns that her teenage sister is gay, which sort of makes the whole ‘coming out’ thing inevitable and Christmas in general quite unforgettable.

As for Neal, Georgie realizes that that reason he proposed to her all those years ago was because to the 1998 Neal their phone conversations were just as real as they are to her now and that she can’t fix her present day life just by talking to him in the past – it’s already happened and it has nothing to do with his unhappiness in 2013. So Georgie – project postponed and/or forgtten – hops into her car and goes to the airport on Christmas Eve to try and get to her family in Omaha because it’s how it’s supposed to be.

Speak of making wise decisions for once.

Landline (1)

Characters

Stories are not stories without proper, well written characters, and Rainbow Rowell has always been known for her ability to create quirky, funny and relatable ones that feel real and very human, making it impossible for the readers not to root for them.

Georgie McCool is no exception. Being a working mom who has to balance her career, her pursue of a dream project and her family life on a daily basis and sometimes make impossible choices, she is the kind of woman the world is made of.  Every aspect of her life is far from perfect and some of her decisions may not necessarily be right but this is exactly what makes her as interesting as she is. And you can’t really blame her for trying to follow her dream after years and years and years of being stuck with the project she basically loathes. And more importantly, Georgie knows her flaws. She knows that she’s wrong and it’s hard not to want her to succeed in fixing everything however she can. She’s witty, she’s positive and hers is the story that’s fun to follow.

This is, however, where the good stuff ends. Unlike Rowell’s previous books, Landline is so focused on one character – Georgie – that the rest of them blend into some grey mass and fade in the background.

We only have a page of two with the real, present day Neal, which make it almost impossible to get a grasp of who he is and what he wants and why wouldn’t he just talk to Georgie about their issues instead of being annoyingly passive-aggressive about something or another. I guess it’s the ‘passive aggressive’ factor that bugged me the most. You just can’t help thinking – SHE COULD DO BETTER!

Then there is Seth, Georgie’s writing partner and best friend since college, someone she had a crush on forever ago, which eventually transformed into a solid friendship, strengthened by the fact that the two basically complement each other in the writing room. It’s hard to tell if this was Rowell’s intention but Seth and Georgie definitely seem to be much better suited for each other than Neal and Georgie, and I spent about 95% of my reading time hoping they’d hook up, even despite the fact that – best friend or not – Seth seemed to be a bit of a jerk.

As for the other characters – Georgie’s and Neal’s families, co-writers and traveling companions – they’re all there but not really. Being barely fleshed out, it’s hard to really notice them at all. Granted, they may not be really that important, but the fact that they’re not solid enough was making me want to rush through their scenes and get back to Georgie and only Georgie. Speak of wasted potential!

Plot

In her previous books, Rowell stayed in the ‘real world’ realm without venturing into anything mysterious and/or paranormal. I wish she stayed right there with Landline.

First of all, the magic phone made the story and the characters far less relatable, putting a certain amount of distance between ‘them’ and ‘us’. Usually it works in established scifi, which Rowell’s novels aren’t.

Second, it doesn’t take Georgie that long to realize that the phone conversations with the past can’t actually help her change much about her life so the point of the whole story was…? I mean it’s great that she made the right decision in the end and went over to Omaha and at least started patching up things between her and Neal, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time, but one would expect a bigger outcome, especially after all the fuss she’d made about the phone being real/not real and maybe even going crazy.

Moreover, the story was extremely dialogue-heavy, which basically made it an almost perfect screenplay for a film or even a sitcom of some sorts, but it was rather hard to follow the dialogue at times because it so rarely involved any kind of imagery. The phone calls between Neal and Georgie lasted for pages and pages on end, and you can only do so much, being attached to the device plugged into a wall. Even with occasional interruptions, it felt slow for lack of actual physical motion. The idea was impressive, I admit that, but the execution felt half thought through.

Frankly, the part of the book I was particularly curious about was Georgie’s screenwriting career and working on the scripts with her writing team, but this storyline was so in the background it was almost impossible to catch even a glimpse of it. I do wish Rainbow Rowell spent more time dealing with it than with endless phone calls.

Overall

As they say, there’s nothing quite like sky-high expectations to destroy the actual impression of something, be it a book, a film or whatever you’re excited about, hence the confused feelings about Landline. Had it been written by someone else, I would definitely find it a lot more enjoyable. Knowing that Rainbow Rowell could do much, much better, however, killed everything.

The story is cute but… On the one hand, just like all other Rowell’s books, Landline is focused on a sweet geeky character who struggles to find the right balance in her life without going crazy, which is something many of us have to deal with one way or the other. On the other, the scifi element and a bunch of other ‘what the hell was that?!’ moments make it far less appealing and more a little confusing. Time crossing memories and flashbacks are not adding much to the story, to be honest, making it feel clunky and lopsided, lacking the much needed structure.

It’s still a nice and light read, all things considered, but it didn’t stand out in any particular way and I doubt I’ll ever want to pick it up again, unlike Attachments and Fangirl, which I can read over and over.

The Breakdown

A coffee junkie and a passionate traveler, Nadin is in love with all things writing – because who wants to live in the real world, anyway? TV or films – everything needs to be fast paced and dramatic. Scary? Even better! A vampire at heart, she can always be found in her cave, glued to her laptop. As a dedicated yogi and someone who can easily hike all the way to Alaska, Nadin thinks she’s the unhealthiest healthy person ever – because pizza, duh? She strongly believes that live needs to be lived, so… walk away from whatever makes you sad and make things happen!

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