What is the literary equivalent of "I would pay cash money to listed to her read from the phone book?" Because I used to say that about actors I loved (hell, I still might give a nickel to Matt Smith if he'd read me a couple pages from the W's), but I kind of think this describes how I feel about Rainbow Rowell.
As you may know, I loved Fangirl and Eleanor & Park, and I found Attachments charming when I suspended disbelief and my squick reflex regarding the stalky overtones. So I figured Landline would be fine, even if the crumbling marriage aspect seemed really too depressing to be redeemed by her ability to charm me. I went in figuring it would be a charming veneer on a total bummer of a story, probably with a pasted-on upbeat ending.
Well, I have my thoughts on the ending, but I should never have underestimated Rowell. Georgie McCool, the improbably named heroine (kind of?) of this novel, is infuriating and lovable at the same time, and her problems are big and both inevitable and caused by her own bad choices, and this book says SO MANY things about relationships that I keep getting sidetracked from the many thoughts it has generated on magic phones and the ability to change the past.
Okay, so short story: Georgie is married to the love of her life, Neal, who is a stay-at-home dad to their two young daughters. She's also incredibly passionate about her career as a TV writer, and she and her writing partner/best friend, Seth, have the chance of a lifetime--to pitch their pet project, the show they've been dreaming of and working toward for years, to a very interested producer.
Only problem: they have a TON of work to do before the meeting in on week. And it's Christmas.
When Georgie tells Neal she has to work over Christmas, she figures she's ruining the holiday by canceling their trip to see Neal's family in Omaha. But instead, Neal takes the kids and goes without her, and Georgie isn't quite sure what this means about their relationship. But when she tries to call Neal in Omaha on the old landline at her mother's house, she gets Neal in Omaha--only not her Neal. Young Neal, a Neal who hasn't proposed to her yet. She talks with Neal in the past, trying to get a feel for what's wrong with her marriage, and how it could have gone differently, and whether there is any way that two people who are fundamentally Georgie and Neal can ever really be happy together.
Okay, this is already a long post and I'm just finishing up with the premise of this book. There are SO many things I want to talk about. Someone I was talking to was saying that they didn't think it would be a good book club book, but I think it would be an AMAZING book club book, provided you had a certain type of book club. No book club I've ever been in has fit the profile, though: my old ones were too literary, reading novels from a writerly/lit crit point of view, while my new one is composed primarily of single people about 8 years younger than me. But the prototypical book club I picture--married ladies with kids meeting mostly to gossip and dish and talk about how they liked the book--could get a LOT of mileage out of this.
And because I have SO MANY THINGS TO SAY, we're doing them discussion guide style. I love numbered lists--they save so much trouble in organizing your thoughts.
1) Start off with a softball: if you had a magic phone--well, the obvious question is who would you call, but what I want to know is, who would you tell? Would you try to convince someone? Would you think you were going crazy? Would you try to document it scientifically or just start dialing?
2) Did you feel, as I did, that Neal going to Omaha without her was the obvious solution and not a crisis? I mean, there's a crisis going on--he's mad, and she deserves it, I think--but it's not this Christmas that's the problem. If you spend 15 years showing up in your marriage, choosing work one time, even for The Big Holiday, is not the end of the world. Christmas is the straw that broke the camel's back here, right?
3) So why was Georgie like this? I mean, yeah, she loves her job, but it's more than that. You can love your job and show up for your family, even if you don't have a ton of hours. You can be present. Where did she go wrong?
4) Answer (and next question): Seth. Seth, Seth, Seth. He's the elephant in the room/book, right? I mean, he's there, but mostly as an object. To Georgie he's an object; to Neal he's a subject. Is Neal righter than Georgie? In college, Georgie was waiting around for him to choose her, and I'm betting he'd have kept her hanging for decades while he went through hot babes, had she not chosen Neal. But did she, really. Does Seth get more of the best parts of Georgie than Neal does--not her work, but Seth?
5) I think this marriage could be interpreted in more than one way. I felt like Georgie had been screwing up for years, but I've heard it said that she gave up a lot for Neal, and that's not how it looks to me. How much variability do you imagine in people's responses to this?
6) Really, it's Neal who screwed up by choosing Georgie, right? She's the one who came with requirements, and he chose to take them on. The fact that she blows him off for Seth all the time is on her, but even before this, he knew that she wanted to work as a TV writer and run in those circles, and he hated it, and he signed up for it. Jesus, it just gets more impossible the more I think about it.
7) The ending. Too pat, or way too pat? It's like all these complicated, impossible questions that are set up are solved at the end of the half hour.
Really, the book is kind of glib. It's like it was written for TV--honestly, it might make a decent rom-com, if a mostly-unhappy married couple nearing 40 could be described as rom-com material.
This is definitely my least favorite Rainbow Rowell book so far, but that's like saying it's my least favorite flavor of ice cream. If you gave me a cone of peppermint stick, I would still feel only pleased to have ice cream. Whatever else was going on here, it was fun to read.
And, before I go and while on the subject of Rainbow Rowell, check out this video recreating a really touching scene from Fangirl. The guy's a bit too old, but still, this is romance.