Margaret Ann Spence Coming Home
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Landline

Landline By Rainbow Rowell St. Martin’s Press 2014 When I read an interview with the author Rainbow Rowell in which she said her mother was very strict and she wasn’t allowed to watch much television or see many movies, I was surprised. Because Georgie, the protagonist in Rowell’s perceptive and amusing novel Landline, is a television comedy writer and her children seem to do little but watch television. You think the world of scriptwriting is glamorous. Think again. Think of wearing the same ratty jeans to work day after day, eating tuna casserole and sleeping in your old bedroom at your mother’s house because it’s too far to go home ( you’re so busy!) and working day in and day out with a writing partner who, a flirtatious male to your plain married self, teases you about not making the coffee. Forget Christmas parties, caroling, or even spending the holiday with your husband and children. I use the second person because the character Rowell has created in her heroine, Georgie, is so engaging we’re right there with her in her black Metallica tee shirt. Rowell shows us a Los Angeles where success is always just around the corner. If Georgie can just work harder, eschew the Christmas break or any kind of  social life and allow her husband to question their marriage, she’ll get the deal. The novel begins at this crisis point, when Georgie, bemused by promises that her new show with writing partner Seth is about to be picked up by a big producer, decides not to accompany her family to Nebraska for Christmas, so she can keep on working. Georgie has been married for fifteen years to Neal. But despite loving Neal ( so she insists) her soul-mate is her business partner Seth. Georgie and Seth met in college and now, seventeen years later, his behavior, and to some extent hers, remains sophomoric and self-deluded. Neal is withholding. Georgie’s incessant “I love you’s” to Neal ring hollow when she allows Seth to badmouth him constantly. It is a toxic mix, yet this story does not go where you might expect it to. Kudos to Rowell for that. Georgie is the breadwinner in the family. Her work is writing gags and scenes for situation comedies. We fiction writers understand how we can get caught up in thinking a bunch of words we’ve made on the page actually matter. Somehow, making those words intended for television trivializes them and makes Georgie’s choices seem less than wise. Rowell good-naturedly mocks the writer’s profession and the story spins on what might have been. Rowell is a master of dialogue. Yet serious themes underlie the banter; the absurdity of a culture in which work trumps all, the difficulties of a marriage in which one partner is needy and the other passive-aggressive, the failure of feminism to truly deliver gender equality. And as in so many current novels, the technology of the phone is key to the story. The reader notes in the back of the book ask, “Are you old enough to remember talking on a landline?” That about sums up the YA target audience for whom Rowell usually writes. She reaches here for a group that still struggling to grow up. That’s reflected in the characters, who all display a strange lack of worldliness despite being old enough to be married and to contemplate divorce. Still, the immediacy of Rowell’s writing sparkles and her characters, flawed as they are, are all endearing. You’ll enjoy this one.

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