Rereading Rainbow: “Landline”

Welcome, welcome, welcome to something I have been dreaming about for the past few months: blogging about my first reread of all of Rainbow Rowell’s books!!!

I read all four of her books last year (though only three existed when I started), and after each one, I came away with the thought this woman is sheer perfection. My best friend and I are actively obsessed with her, and we are NOT shy about it. If I may be so bold for just a second . . . She’s more important to me than J.K. Rowling.
I know. I just blew your mind.
Anyway. I am a devout rereader—if you love a book, why not love it twice or three times or infinity times?—and the thought of my first reread of Rowell’s books excited me a lot more than I’m willing to disclose here. I knew I couldn’t treat this reread like any other, though; in such a short time, this author has become too important to me for just a casual dive back into her works. So I decided to spend my birth month (THIS ONE!) rereading her books and then blogging about the experience, taking note of my thoughts and lines I love. To make it more fun, I’m rereading the books not in the order that I read them. I chose to read them in reverse chronological order based on what year it is in each story. I know. I’m such a weirdo. It works out to where I’m almost reading in reverse publication order, but I get to save my favorite for last, which is what I really wanted to do.
Well that’s enough idle chat! On to the main show!

Landline is Rainbow Rowell’s fourth publication. It came out in July 2014 and is the second adult fiction book she’s written. (It goes adult, young adult, young adult, adult.) While I loved her first adult book, Attachments, I was actually a little wary when I heard about this one. The general premise is that, when main character Georgie’s husband Neal takes their kids to his hometown of Omaha the week of Christmas, Georgie finds a phone at her mother’s house that lets her talk to Neal fifteen years ago, the last time she and her husband had a huge fight.

A magic phone? Semi-time travel? Excuse me while Pre-First Read Nicole gives this book some side eye.

With the first three books being grounded in the real world (arguably), I was worried that Landline would seem too fantastical, too ridiculous in comparison. Plus, I feel like I’m not a fan of time travel, even if it’s only in the The Lake House sense. So I went in prepared to be a little underwhelmed. I mean, it’s her fourth book! One of them HAS to be bad, statistically speaking.
But then I read it, and it just felt so, so right. It wasn’t heavy-handed in any way (in my opinion), and even without a cosmic explanation of how it was happening, I loved it. I think what makes it shine is that the ability to talk to the 1998 version of her husband doesn’t feel like the point of the book. And I think that’s because it really isn’t. The point is to watch what happens as a couple that was always walking a fine line comes to a fork, both in the past and in their present.

As with all her books when I come to talk about them, I don’t really want to give too much away because I REALLY want you to go out and get them yourself—obviously only if they sound like a thing you’d be interested in, but still. So I’m just going to touch on some highlights and some killer phrases from the book (my apologies if any of them are spoiler-y).

Let’s talk core concept for a bit.
Georgie is a main writer on a successful comedy show that she hates.
Neal is her husband of fourteen years who stays at home with their two girls, Alice and Noomi (real name Naomi).
Seth is Georgie’s best friend and writing partner.
Georgie and Seth have been working together since college, and now they finally have a chance to create and write the show they’ve been dreaming about for years. Unfortunately, this means Georgie has to work through Christmas, missing the yearly trip to Omaha to see Neal’s mom. So Neal takes the kids and leaves Georgie to work and worry about the state of her marriage. She spends a lot of time at her own mother’s house, which is weird (because her family won’t stop asking what’s going on with Neal) but comforting (because she isn’t going back to an empty home). It’s also weird because of the magic phone, but I digress. As the days go by, Georgie thinks about how her two important men came to be in her life, and all the little moments of happiness and pain that have followed.

A major driving force for drama is that Neal and Seth do not like each other. Seth, a notorious flirt, was the person it seemed like Georgie would end up with, and might have, until Neal got on the scene. So entirely on principal, the two men are not friends. During a flashback, there’s an exchange between Georgie and Neal where she tells him she often thinks the only reason he started talking to her was because he knew it pissed off Seth, and he retorts by saying he often thinks the same of her (p. 127). Clearly Seth is not a great source of mirth for the couple. But being writing partners and best friends, he was and is a mainstay in Georgie’s life. Neal deals with this for years, knowing that Georgie loves him and only him, but in both 1998 and 2013, he reaches his limit. It always seems like Georgie is picking Seth and their professional life over her life with Neal, even if Neal is the one she comes home to.
The first time I read Landline, I absolutely hated Seth. As much as I love when guys and girls are friends (best of, in fact), I really didn’t want a friendship like that to be what ruined a marriage. And there were times in the book when it felt like that was definitely going to be the case. As I reread it, however, I started to see the beauty of this composition. The reader just THINKS that Seth is the problem in Georgie’s marriage. But he’s not. It’s how Georgie prioritizes her life, assuming that she can ignore Neal because he will always be there. Seth is a red herring of sorts, and once I realized that, what was the most infuriating scene for my first read turned into a scene that was absolutely necessary. I can’t imagine the book without it now.

Now, one of the reasons why I love Rainbow Rowell’s books is because she is so great at creating moments and spot-on depictions of situations. She also reminds me of another favorite of mine, Markus Zusak. He has a way of describing things that is so wonderful to me, and I get bits of that from Rowell. Here are a couple of hits:

  • On page 35, Georgie is thinking about how she and Seth were “supposed to” end up together romantically, and the lines that follow are perfection in my mind. They encompass one of the ways it feels when getting over someone.

    Just as soon as Seth exhausted his other possibilities, as soon as he worked through his queue of admirers. He hadn’t been in any hurry, and Georgie didn’t have a say in the matter. She’d taken a number. She was waiting patiently.
    And then, one day, she wasn’t.

  • There’s an exchange on pages 129 and 130 where, in the same flashback I mentioned earlier, Neal and Georgie are discussing why she stopped her ritual of going to talk him when he arrived at the offices of the college newspaper where they and Seth work. It’s far too long to transcribe here, so just know that the girl vs. guy logic in the exchange is so on point; Super Hubs and I have definitely had our own version of this conversation several times.
  • On page 149, there’s a flashback to when Georgie and Neal kiss for the first time. (To fully understand it, Neal was a cartoonist for the newspaper. I could explain it more, but I think it speaks for itself.)

    He kissed her like he was drawing a perfectly straight line.
    He kissed her in India ink.

Rowell is also just really funny sometimes. I feel like it can be hard to write funny, but she pulls it off.

  • On page 23, when Georgie’s half-sister is explaining the kind of people who like the middle son character on the show Georgie currently works for.

    “The thugs as school all wear ‘This sucks’ T-shirts. Like, not the intimidating, cool thugs—the depressing, homely thugs who listen to Insane Clown Posse.”

  • On page 76, Georgie is thinking about how she would hang out in Seth’s fraternity and how she once asked him why he was in a fraternity because “Comedy writers don’t join fraternities.” He said, “Don’t pigeonhole me, Georgie. I’m infinite.” I don’t know why, but whenever I imagine him saying that, I laugh.
  • On page 252, my absolute FAVORITE FAVORITE FAVORITE moment in this book happens. It was the moment I looked forward to reading again, even though it was only one sentence. Georgie is reflecting on how Neal proposed to her at the end of the 1998 Christmas fight, and she realizes that something he says during the proposal is something present-her said to past-him on the phone.

    God—had Neal really said that? Had she really only half-understood her own proposal?

There are so many other things I could say to explain how much I love this book and Rainbow Rowell in general, like how even though I was reading it for the second time, I still had to stop myself from reading too fast because I was too caught up in the moment. Or I could mention how I always feel like I’m reading about myself and my friends or Super Hubs when I read a Rowell book.
But I have three other books to read and blog before the month is up!
If this one sounds like it might be up your alley, give it a spin! But don’t fret if not. There’s bound to be something in ONE of her books to make you say “Hey. That sounds like a good time.” So just check back here; I’ll tell you something good.