Reposting Just ‘Cuz: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

The second re-run from 5 years ago this week is from Rainbow Rowell, before she discovered she could make a lot more money on the YA market than she can with “Commercial Women’s Fiction” or whatever silly marketing label this got. I miss that Rowell, oh well.

LandlineLandline

by Rainbow Rowell

Hardcover, 310 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2014
Read: August 13, 2014

If the last few years have taught us readers anything, it’s that if you want quirky, honest, heart-felt romance with real (and usually moderately overweight) people and solid laughs, Rainbow Rowell will consistently deliver for you. And if you don’t think you want that, after you read her, you’ll realize that’s just what you wanted after all. She has two YA books and now two Adult books to her credit. Her latest, Landline delivers the typical Rowell magic in her story, but this time she included something else: actual magic. Sort of.

Georgie McCool is half of a pretty successful TV writing team who are thiiiiis close to being much more successful, all they have to do is crank out a handful of scripts in the next couple of weeks and they’re in a great position to sell their first series. The catch is, this involves working over Christmas — despite Georgie’s plans to go to her mother-in-law’s in Omaha with her husband, Neal and their two daughters. Georgie says that she can’t pass up this opportunity, so Neal and the girls go off without her.

Georgie sees this as a regrettable occurrence, but one of the sacrifices she has to make to get her dream show made. Her mother, step-father and sister see it as her husband leaving her, and Georgie ends up staying with them. Which gets Georgie to worrying — especially when she can never seem to reach Neal on the phone during the day. At night, however, when her iPhone battery is dead, she has to resort to the landline in her old room and she ends up talking to Neal back before they got engaged.

Don’t ask. It makes no sense. She never bothers to explain. And it doesn’t matter. Georgie eventually figures out that’s what’s going on and she rolls with it, and the reader does, too.

These conversations, as well as the absence of her family, lead Georgie on a path down memory lane, reflecting on the beginning of their relationship and how it changed as they did. Maybe Neal had made a mistake choosing her. Maybe she’d ruined her life (and his) by choosing him. Would they have both been better off going their separate ways? Or was there something worth fighting for now? Would that matter? The clock is ticking — for Georgie’s marriage (both now and then) and her career. Is she up for it?

The tension is real, the apprehension, fear, and self-doubt (for starters) that Georgie is wrestling with is very obvious and palpable. Yet while focusing on this, Rowell’s able to create a believable world filled with a lot of interesting people. There’s Georgie’s partner/best friend, Seth and another writer on their current (and hopefully future) show — and Georgie failing to hold up her end of things there, as much as she tries.

Then there’s her sister, mother and step-father. They’re much better developed (probably only because we spend more time with them). Her mother’s a pretty implausible character, yet not a cartoon, she’s a pug fanatic, married someone much younger than her, and generally seems really happy. Her sister’s about done with high school and is figuring herself out (and mostly has) — she’s a hoot, and my biggest problem with the book is that we don’t get more of Heather. Not that there wasn’t plenty of her — and it’d require the book to take a far different shape. We get whole storylines about all the non-Neal people in her life, little vignettes showing us their character, giving us smiles in the midst of Georgie’s crisis, like:

“Kids are perceptive, Georgie. They’re like dogs”–she offered a meatball from her own fork to the pug heaped in her lap–“they know when their people are unhappy.”
“I think you may have just reverse-anthropomorphized your own grandchildren.”
Her mom waved her empty fork dismissively. “You know what I mean.”
Heather leaned into Georgie and sighed. “Sometimes I feel like her daughter. And sometimes I feel like the dog with the least ribbons.”

Not only do the supporting stories, or even the little moments like this fill out Georgie’s world and make it more interesting, they provide a breather for the reader from having to deal with the disintegrating marriage.

I know some people think we spend too much time in flashbacks, where Georgie’s remembering how she and Neal met, got to know each other, and started seeing each other, etc. But we need that. If all we get is Neal in the present, or past-Neal on the phone, we’re not going to care enough. Especially in the first couple of scenes we get with Neal, it’d be real easy to see him as unsympathetic — the guy holding Georgie and her career back. We need these flashbacks so the reader can sync their feelings about Neal with Georgie’s, so that when we read something like:

Georgie hadn’t known back then how much she was going to come to need Neal, how he was going to become like air to her.
Was that codependence? Or was it just marriage?”

or

She needed him.
Neal was home. Neal was base.
Neal was where Georgie plugged in, and synced up, and started fresh every day. He was the only one who knew her exactly as she was.

find ourselves agreeing with her, or at least seeing why she says it.

At the end of the book, there’s a lot of plot lines dangling — some very important ones, actually. Enough so, that normally, I’d devote a paragraph to complaining about it. But I won’t this time — it works for Landline. There’s a lot for Georgie to work out herself, she’s really only settled on the one most important thing, leaving the rest to be resolved another day. And that’s got to be good enough for the reader.

Not her best, but Rowell on an off day is still really, really good.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

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Some Honorable Mentions of 2014

The Day of Lists continues:

Here are the books I wanted to include on my best of, but something kept me from it.

Honorable Mentions should go to (in alphabetical order):

He Drank, and Saw the Spider (Eddie LaCrosse, #5)He Drank, and Saw the Spider

by Alex Bledsoe
My Review
You could substitute Wake of the Bloody Angel here. This series has long-surpassed the gimmick of a hard-boiled detective novel in a generic fantasy setting. Pigeon-hole it however you want, it’s just a good book.
4 Stars

The Lives of Tao (Tao, #1)The Lives of Tao

by Wesley Chu
My Review
Despite the buzz around this, I wasn’t sure I was terribly interested — nor did I really know what to expect. So, so glad I took the chance. A barrel full of exciting, gun-blazing, snarky fun.
4 Stars

Bad Little Girls Die Horrible Deaths and Other Tales of Dark FantasyBad Little Girls Die Horrible Deaths and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy

by Harry Connolly

My Review
I’m not normally a short story reader, but more collections like this might make me one. Different types of fantasy, all well written, even in the stories that aren’t my cup of tea I found something to enjoy.
4 Stars

The Severed StreetsThe Severed Streets

by Paul Cornell
My Review
Audible.com has provided a sample of the audio book version. Give it a shot, I’m betting 30 minutes won’t be enough.
I was impressed by the first in this series, London Falling, but this kicked it into a different gear. It’s about London as an entity as much as it is about these characters and their opponents — it’s dark, twisted and a little hopeful. Some fine writing here.
4 1/2 Stars

The Intern's Handbook: A ThrillerThe Intern’s Handbook: A Thriller

by Shane Kuhn
My Review
Hyper-violent, comic commentary on corporate cultures with heart. Or something like that.
4 Stars

The HumansThe Humans

by Matt Haig
My Review
Haig’s got this gift for making us look at ourselves with the oddest type of outsider. Ultimately, I realize I’ve read and watched this story before, but I was either finished or nearly finished before I had that insight. Either way, didn’t care, because no one had told it like this.
4 1/2 Stars

The Westing GameThe Westing Game

by Ellen Raskin
My Review is forthcoming
I’ve sat down to write the review of this one I don’t know how many times. I read this dozens upon dozens of times as a kid — loving the characters, the story, the strange little puzzle. And then walked away from it for decades. Reading it this summer was a wonderful blast from the past, and although I felt like I could recite the thing en toto I couldn’t, it still filled me with joy. Not just for nostalgia’s sake, either. This was probably one of my 3 favorite reads of the year, but it felt like cheating to put it on the main list, so here it is.
5 Stars

LandlineLandline

by Rainbow Rowell
My Review
A marriage on the rocks, a career on the brink, a magic telephone and Rainbow Rowell’s charm and heart. What more can I say?
4 1/2 Stars

Where'd You Go, BernadetteWhere’d You Go, Bernadette

by Maria Semple
My Review is forthcoming
First book I finished in 2014, and it’s stuck with me the whole year — even as I struggle to write a review. A strange, impossibly strange and entirely believable world, populated with people I’m convinced could exist — and maybe do. I don’t know what else I can say about this (probably explains the year delay). It’s good. Funny, heartfelt, tragic.
4 Stars

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

LandlineLandline

by Rainbow Rowell

Hardcover, 310 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2014
Read: August 13, 2014

If the last few years have taught us readers anything, it’s that if you want quirky, honest, heart-felt romance with real (and usually moderately overweight) people and solid laughs, Rainbow Rowell will consistently deliver for you. And if you don’t think you want that, after you read her, you’ll realize that’s just what you wanted after all. She has two YA books and now two Adult books to her credit. Her latest, Landline delivers the typical Rowell magic in her story, but this time she included something else: actual magic. Sort of.

Georgie McCool is half of a pretty successful TV writing team who are thiiiiis close to being much more successful, all they have to do is crank out a handful of scripts in the next couple of weeks and they’re in a great position to sell their first series. The catch is, this involves working over Christmas — despite Georgie’s plans to go to her mother-in-law’s in Omaha with her husband, Neal and their two daughters. Georgie says that she can’t pass up this opportunity, so Neal and the girls go off without her.

Georgie sees this as a regrettable occurrence, but one of the sacrifices she has to make to get her dream show made. Her mother, step-father and sister see it as her husband leaving her, and Georgie ends up staying with them. Which gets Georgie to worrying — especially when she can never seem to reach Neal on the phone during the day. At night, however, when her iPhone battery is dead, she has to resort to the landline in her old room and she ends up talking to Neal back before they got engaged.

Don’t ask. It makes no sense. She never bothers to explain. And it doesn’t matter. Georgie eventually figures out that’s what’s going on and she rolls with it, and the reader does, too.

These conversations, as well as the absence of her family, lead Georgie on a path down memory lane, reflecting on the beginning of their relationship and how it changed as they did. Maybe Neal had made a mistake choosing her. Maybe she’d ruined her life (and his) by choosing him. Would they have both been better off going their separate ways? Or was there something worth fighting for now? Would that matter? The clock is ticking — for Georgie’s marriage (both now and then) and her career. Is she up for it?

The tension is real, the apprehension, fear, and self-doubt (for starters) that Georgie is wrestling with is very obvious and palpable. Yet while focusing on this, Rowell’s able to create a believable world filled with a lot of interesting people. There’s Georgie’s partner/best friend, Seth and another writer on their current (and hopefully future) show — and Georgie failing to hold up her end of things there, as much as she tries.

Then there’s her sister, mother and step-father. They’re much better developed (probably only because we spend more time with them). Her mother’s a pretty implausible character, yet not a cartoon, she’s a pug fanatic, married someone much younger than her, and generally seems really happy. Her sister’s about done with high school and is figuring herself out (and mostly has) — she’s a hoot, and my biggest problem with the book is that we don’t get more of Heather. Not that there wasn’t plenty of her — and it’d require the book to take a far different shape. We get whole storylines about all the non-Neal people in her life, little vignettes showing us their character, giving us smiles in the midst of Georgie’s crisis, like:

“Kids are perceptive, Georgie. They’re like dogs”–she offered a meatball from her own fork to the pug heaped in her lap–“they know when their people are unhappy.”
“I think you may have just reverse-anthropomorphized your own grandchildren.”
Her mom waved her empty fork dismissively. “You know what I mean.”
Heather leaned into Georgie and sighed. “Sometimes I feel like her daughter. And sometimes I feel like the dog with the least ribbons.”

Not only do the supporting stories, or even the little moments like this fill out Georgie’s world and make it more interesting, they provide a breather for the reader from having to deal with the disintegrating marriage.

I know some people think we spend too much time in flashbacks, where Georgie’s remembering how she and Neal met, got to know each other, and started seeing each other, etc. But we need that. If all we get is Neal in the present, or past-Neal on the phone, we’re not going to care enough. Especially in the first couple of scenes we get with Neal, it’d be real easy to see him as unsympathetic — the guy holding Georgie and her career back. We need these flashbacks so the reader can sync their feelings about Neal with Georgie’s, so that when we read something like:

Georgie hadn’t known back then how much she was going to come to need Neal, how he was going to become like air to her.
Was that codependence? Or was it just marriage?”

or

She needed him.
Neal was home. Neal was base.
Neal was where Georgie plugged in, and synced up, and started fresh every day. He was the only one who knew her exactly as she was.

find ourselves agreeing with her, or at least seeing why she says it.

At the end of the book, there’s a lot of plot lines dangling — some very important ones, actually. Enough so, that normally, I’d devote a paragraph to complaining about it. But I won’t this time — it works for Landline. There’s a lot for Georgie to work out herself, she’s really only settled on the one most important thing, leaving the rest to be resolved another day. And that’s got to be good enough for the reader.

Not her best, but Rowell on an off day is still really, really good.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

In Medias Res: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

as the title implies, I’m in the middle of this book, so this is not a review, just some thoughts mid-way through

—–

Landline
Landline

by Rainbow Rowell

I’m on page 153 of 308 — as close as you can get to half-way (at least if you stop at the end of a chapter), and I’m all in on this book. It’s told with Rowell’s trademark warmth and charm. It’s funny, but not hilariously so; tragic, but not heartbreaking (yet); romantic, without being sappy; and real, without being . . . non-fiction?

Yeah, okay, that sentence got away from me.

This is a story about a marriage on the rocks, about the beginning of this romance, maybe about its end, friendship, priorities, and a magic telephone. Most of these are themes not new to Rowell, but that are in constant demand as fodder for stories. Rowell’s doing a bang-up job so far, I’m really pulling for this couple (in both the beginning and at the later part of the relationship). As always, Rowell gives us real people — people we could know, people we would befriend, people we could be.

At this point, I can see a few ways this could end — all of which are entirely justified by what’s come so far, and the vast majority of them end with me risking alcohol poisoning. I’m really liking Georgie McCool that much (and yes, that is her real name).