Review: Landline

Rainbow Rowell’s Landline is romance with an SFnal twist. Scriptwriter Georgie McCool (yes) and her writing partner Seth have just been offered a chance to pitch their show to a top-flight producer, but they’ll have to spend all of Christmas week writing the scripts. Which is unfortunate, because Georgie is supposed to be going to Omaha with her husband Neal and their two daughters to see Neal’s parents. When Georgie chooses scriptwriting over Christmas with her family, Neal storms out with the kids, precipitating a crisis in their relationship. And then Georgie finds that the landline in her old bedroom at her mother’s house calls, not angry 2013 Neal, but younger and presumably less emotionally callused 1992 Neal.

Short review for this, because although it was lovely I’m not sure how much there is to say about it. I’m slightly side-eyeing the premise of a woman jeopardising her relationship by working too hard, firstly because this is a familiar narrative that always features a woman, never a man (and, in fact, men working every hour God sends is normalised in our culture), and secondly because I slightly resent the framing of what someone does for a living as an obstacle to their relationships, especially when that person happens to be female. How dare you love and be committed to your job, woman. Essentially: I feel like this particular aspect of Georgie and Neal’s problems lacks depth – it’s an excuse or a shorthand for Marital Problems, nothing more.

On the other hand – the rest of the novel is charming enough that I don’t mind too much. It’s unusual to read something that focuses on a long-term relationship rather than one that’s just beginning – and a long-term relationship where the couple are still devoted to each other despite the problems. Rowell refuses to solve their problems for them – the ending is happy, of course, because this is romance, but it’s happy-for-now not happy-ever-after; despite the SFnal conceit, there’s no magical panacea that will make it all better. Relationships take work, Rowell’s saying, and compromise, and what’s important is not what those compromises are but each person’s willingness to make them.

There’s also a character who comes out as gay, which is nice. And puppies. Puppies are excellent.

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