When I went to pull the cover art for this from Goodreads, a book that I recognized popped up under the "Readers Also Enjoyed" section: Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins. For a moment, I was perplexed; Isla is a decidedly young adult book and Landline, while not explicit, is definitely aimed at a more adult audience. But after a bit of reflection, I saw the connection. Both of these books deal with the building and disassembling of relationships, with life just getting in the way, and of the couple--sometimes one party more than another--striving to make things right, often in each other's absence.
In Landline, Georgie is a comedy writer on the verge of a big break. She and her long-time writing partner, Seth, have the opportunity to finally create the show they've been working on for nearly two decades. The problem with this? They need to do a massive amount of work to get it off the ground, and they need to do it when Georgie is supposed to be going to her mother-in-law's house for Christmas with her husband and two daughters. Georgie has a habit of putting work before her family, and this is one straw much. Her husband, Neal, packs up the girls and goes without her, leaving Georgie alone in Los Angeles. Georgie throws herself into work, but the rift between her and Neal eats away at her, especially because Neal isn't answering her calls. When her own cellphone dies--as it does whenever it's not plugged in--she calls Neal's mother's house from an old rotary phone she bought while she was still living with her mother, and gets a surprise. While she can talk to Neal, it's not her Neal that she's talking to--it's Neal from almost two decades ago. And so Georgie wonders if this is a sign: is she supposed to use her connection to past-Neal to change their relationship before it becomes too late?
This is a sweet novel. It's set up very well to allow the story to flow while also filling in all of the background information that you really need in order to emotionally connect with the characters. The current timeline is interspersed with long periods of Georgie thinking about earlier times in the relationship--not necessarily flashbacks, because they still read like real narrative, but definitely backstory. This lets us see how Neal and Georgie have changed as time went on, and how they've come to grow apart, as well as how they used to--and still do--fit together.
I will have to say, though, that I'm not entirely satisfied with the ending here. The "magical phone to the past" thing is never explained--possibly because how do you explain something like that, but still, I would have liked a stab at it. And then...I'm not necessarily sure that Georgie and Neal should be together, and the sickly-sweetness of the ending turned my stomach a little. I think I would have liked a more bittersweet ending on this one; it would have fit the overall tone of the novel better. One of those "I hate it but I love it" endings, you know? Anyway, I did really like this overall; it's a light, fast read, but one that still had plenty of emotion, and I'd definitely read Rowell's other books.
4 stars out of 5.