Rainbow Rowell is best known for her incredibly popular young adult novel Eleanor and Park. Rather than choose to write about a teenage couple once again in her newest book, Landline, however, Rowell has chosen a middle-aged married couple as her focus.
The protagonist of Landline is Georgie McCool, a television writer and Los Angeles native. The crux of her story arrives when she decides that a heavy workload and an exciting new project
making it big does not fit with her family’s
pre-arranged Christmas trip to Omaha, Nebraska, to visit her widowed mother-in-law. Her husband Neal’s response is to take their two daughters, seven-year-old Alice and four-year-old Noomi, ‘home’ to Omaha with him, leaving Georgie behind. We are immediately launched straight into Georgie’s domestic life as she returns from work and breaks her news.
The most interesting aspect of the plot comes at the point at which Georgie discovers that she is able to communicate with her husband in the past via an old telephone she finds in a closet, and subsequently ‘feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts’ – after believing herself to be suffering a mental breakdown, of course. This plot device works well, and throws up a lot of questions for Georgie and her life with Neal and their daughters.
Whilst Rowell is perceptive of her characters – freshly cut hair feels ‘like velvet one way and needles the other’, and Neal is said to have ‘dimples like parentheses’, for example – the majority of her creations feel rather flat. Only Neal and Georgie are far more realistic when shown as their young selves, and even the couple’s children are largely lacklustre. The entirety feels as though it has been written by a wholly different author to the one who penned Eleanor and Park, in which even the minor characters linger in the mind for some time.
The novel takes place over a week in December 2013, and the third person perspective has been used throughout. Rowell seems to have taken her contemporary setting a little too seriously, and throughout there are frequent and quite unnecessary references to a lot of ‘modern’ things – the endless hunts for iPhone chargers, for example. A certain mundanity is added to the novel in consequence.
Landline lacks the sparkle of Eleanor and Park, and it is easy to imagine that a lot of readers may be a little disappointed by the novel. The slow pace does improve as it goes on, however, and the real strength of Landline lies in the way in which Rowell demonstrates how people can alter so dramatically over time.