First off, I applaud this book for tackling tough marriage issues people in modern society face without making readers feel jaded about marriage in general. So kudos to Ms. Rowell for that. However, especially because of this positive aspect to the novel, I came away at the end thinking that she was so, so close, but just didn’t cross the finish line.
The main character Georgie has been married to Neal for a number of years and their marriage has hit a huge stumbling block. Neal stays home with their two daughters (a mutual arrangement they are both happy about) while Georgie works as a TV writer for a successful show – with her male bff Seth. This arrangement predictably becomes an issue for the couple as Neal has never liked Seth and constantly feels like Georgie puts him second and her work (and Seth) first. And he’s not wrong. I found myself not sympathizing with Georgie at all – not because I think she shouldn’t have a career and Neal should be the one working instead of her – but because she’s incredibly selfish, she does put Neal second to her job and Seth, and she knows it an doesn’t do anything to stop it. She spends most of the book whining about how much she loves Neal and can’t lose him, but then doesn’t put Seth in his place when he crosses lines and she can clearly see how it upsets her husband.
Redemption comes at the end (the very, very end) when eventually she does come to her senses – thanks to a magic landline that allows her to talk to Neal in the year 1998 and remember why they fell in love in the first place. They do fix their marriage, she tells Seth to cut it out while still keeping their friendship (which truthfully is a tad unbelievable since Seth mostly seems to have ZERO redeeming qualities, but I overlooked it for the sake of the plot), and she hangs on to her career. So YAY for a book that promotes sticking together through good times and bad.
Another positive: In true Rowell form, characters are believable, funny, annoying, endearing, and they basically read as real people. She’s excellent at giving a true snapshot into how people live their lives.
Now here’s the giant HOWEVER. This is a modern novel that gives an aforementioned snapshot into how modern people live their lives. Meaning it’s full of profanities, there is tons of talk about and engaging in casual and premarital sex (with every generation and gender), and a few moments that trivialize religion (when it’s even talked about at all). None of these devices advanced the plot or helped define characters. Everyone – literally everyone except the children – has a terrible mouth, which is unrealistic, since I know plenty of people who don’t curse (and no, they’re not all religious). All it did was make every character seem crass and sex-crazed. It was off-putting.
Also a little disappointing was the writing in general. The only other book of Rowell’s that I read was Fangirl (to which I say don’t bother; good snapshot of college life and children dealing with their parents’ divorce, but an overall underwhelming story, and modern college life isn’t an example of good behavior). I thought her writing fit with that novel because it is a YA book. Landline is written in the same fashion: easy, quick, funny, quick, a little aloof, quick (are you sensing a theme?). Rowell’s style felt like she was writing a fast-paced YA novel dealing with full on adult issues (marriage, obviously) that need more time to be properly addressed like, well, adults.
I would only recommend this book if you’re looking for an easy read with a good ending. But if you’re anything like me, even then be prepared to overlook a lot.