(I want to preface this post with a spoiler alert because my discussion hinges on some big plot points that might spoil the book for you if you’re planning to read it. Maybe come back to me post Landline.)
It’s a rarity for me, listening to a work of fiction on audio. Generally, my audiobook experiences are exclusive to memoirs or to books I know I would never get around to reading otherwise. But I checked out Landline by Rainbow Rowell simply because I was tired of not having read it, tired of hearing about it and not being able to share in that experience.
It is probably true that I would’ve liked Landline a lot more if I hadn’t been so achingly familiar with the premise. It’s an interesting premise: woman who’s having marital troubles calls her husband’s house on her mother’s old landline and somehow connects to the college version of her husband, then boyfriend. Magical time traveling phone. Got it.
The trouble with knowing about this premise beforehand was that it took ages(it seemed to me) to get to that point; therefore, a lot of the exposition of the story felt like winding up to me. The device about her cell phone’s battery, the various excuses for going to her mother’s house instead of home… all plausible, but all a clear set up for what I had already been taught to expect. I know the hype, and therefore the familiarity of the thing, isn’t something that one constructs into the plot of their novel. But there was so much care put into making the magical realism plausible that I got a bit frustrated.
This isn’t my first time reading Rowell; I’ve also read Fangirl. I mention this because I had a similar feeling about both books: I couldn’t ever be quite sure I was enjoying myself. Fangirl won me over in the end, because I realized that my initial resistance to the book had more to do with the main character’s social anxieties and the way that she dealt with them–I felt personal indignation that she holed up in her room with power bars where I had sat, ears perked up, hoping to hear the other girls gathering in the hall so that I wouldn’t be forgotten in the round-up for dinner at the dining hall. I didn’t like the book because it showed a girl who suffered the same things I did, but who made no effort to struggle–and who came out with friends and relationships just the same.
I could not search myself for the same reasons for being disappointed in Landline. I am not a married woman, I do not have children, and I am not ambitiously career-driven. I am not Georgie, so my feelings of “Am I liking this?” don’t seem linked to the same resistance against self reflection that plagued me during Fangirl.
I can’t place it, exactly. I have no particular quarrels with the writing (although I’m by this point so tired of best friends giving confessions of love to one another that I probably would’ve pitched a physical copy of the book across the room at that moment). In the end, I suppose the book surprised me a lot less than I expected, given the interesting premise. It unfolded about how I would have expected–the conversations with her husband, as he was when he was still her boyfriend, taught her to see the relationship with new eyes. Marriage repaired. Turned out that those conversations had inspired her boyfriend’s proposal back in the day, because timelines. It was an interesting read, and I can’t say I regret the time I took to read it, but I’m left with mixed feelings, an uncertainty about whether or not I would recommend the book to others.
Rowell does some important things–her characters are blatantly not conventionally attractive, yet are still allowed to find love. She handles her gay character well, without making her gayness her definition. These are important things, but they do not alone sustain the book for me. I wanted to be surprised, to feel at least for a moment like things might not actually turn out okay between Neil and Georgie. But ultimately, that was not my experience.