Dangerous Beans

One-half of Deux Lectrices, writing about the things I read.

SPOILER ALERT!
Landline - Rainbow Rowell
Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

Yes.

 

When I read the first summary for the book (which I can't find atm), it made it sound like their marriage was on the rocks and the temporary split would involve Georgie speaking to Neal's past self and rediscovering why she loved him, while also speaking to his present self and working through their problems.

So... did I get that? No. God, no.

What I got was an extremely immature woman who was overly dependent on her husband, who was being presented as a ~fun, life of the party-esque comedy writer. Presented as: We're constantly told that Georgie LOVES both having and being fun. Instead, she literally sits around and wonders about why her husband is angry at her this time.

Her husband leaves for Omaha with their children and she essentially completely shuts down. She stops showering, she barely changes clothes, and she steps out on all prior commitments, even though the entire plot only kicked off because she decided that her work was more important than her family.

(Speaking of this, I continuously wondered when it was brought up why she didn't just work with Seth and Scotty long distance. We have phones and technology these days that allow you to basically still be in the same room with the person and, yes, Georgie would be on the phone / computer with her coworkers most of the trip, but she would still be there with her family. But, again, if she had chosen any other thing to do, we wouldn't have the book.)

Neal is an asshole, plain and simple. Georgie and the narration spend about 400 pages waxing poetic about how Neal is amazing for her because he's emotionally unavailable and he doesn't like anybody and hates everything BUT HE LOVES GEORGIE... And that's all we get on his character. I couldn't tell you anything about him other than his name, he never laughs, and is always extremely angry at his wife. In fact, I wish I could quote the ending scene wherein Georgie drops everything and runs to Omaha to be with her family and Neal sees her. There's a lot of "he doesn't look happy," going on in that scene. Oh, but then he kisses her, and she keeps promising that she'll be "better" for him and their relationship, so everything's all good.

The novel really only introduces us to Neal of the past, which is a huge problem because, as very many reviewers have pointed out, Georgie is married to Neal of the present; speaking to past Neal does not resolve the conflict with now Neal, who she only speaks to twice in this book, at the very beginning and very end. However, Neal of the past does not actually seem too different from Neal of the future: Both of them have the same "I'm gonna tense my jaw and tell you how much I hate all your decisions and passions and leave in a huff, without explaining why, and then expect you to figure out how you upset me and fix everything" attitudes towards Georgie. It's even explained that in the past, Neal walked out on her over an industry party he went to with Georgie, telling her, and I'm quoting here, "I hate this. I hate this. I hate that you want this." Sorry? So he knows that she wants to do this with her life, has been doing this for years, yet has not made his peace with it? Georgie, girl, love yourself and find someone else.

Neal's unattractive qualities don't just stop at belittling Georgie's career choice and emotionally abusing and manipulating her, he also carries an unhealthy and repeatedly unproven jealously towards Georgie's best friend and co-worker Seth, which was petty as everything. Every time Georgie so much as brings up the man she works with, Neal is off giving her icy glares, tensing his jaw, and not speaking to her. This has been happening for about 17 years in their relationship. Even though Georgie has assured him that, should he ever ask her to choose between himself and Seth, she will pick Neal, Neal still repeatedly gets angry if he even sees Seth. This isn't healthy or romantic; Georgie shouldn't be scared that having friends of the opposite sex might upset her significant other.

The entire relationship between Georgie and Neal reads as abusive as well. Neal disgustingly and silently lording himself and his affection just out of Georgie's reach while Georgie tries her hardest to maintain the career she's been dreaming of since before she met him and attempt, daily, hourly, by the minute, to placate her husband who seems to only really be with Georgie because she puts up with the biggest amount of his bullshit without complaining or abandoning him.

And Neal's not even just a dick to Georgie: He had a girlfriend / fiancee before her named Dawn, who still lives near his childhood home and currently takes care of her parents. He proposed to this woman, who he had been dating since high school, in the hopes that she'd say no, knowing full well she'd say yes. After she said yes, he moved out to California to flake around on his career, flirt with Georgie whilst being engaged and then break off the engagement via phone call.

Basically, this guy is the worst and I cannot for the life of me understand what his appeal's supposed to be.

The only other major character is Seth, and, while he's likable, his characterization is thinner than the plot. He exists basically to say, "Our dream, Georgie! Remember our dream? Now's our chance!" and care about Georgie in an actually decent human being / best friend way.

All the other characters, including Georgie's daughters, are basically background noise.

The story is... well, if I'm honest, nonexistent. Neal leaves with the girls, Georgie sits around for 400 pages wondering why Neal is angry and why he won't answer her calls or call her back. Seriously, that's all it is, Georgie sitting around and thinking about Neal. In there somewhere is a reference to her career being comedy writer by having her show up at her place of work and waffle around and ignore responsibilities while she waits for her husband to call her back and wonders why he doesn't call. Then Georgie stays at her mother's house indefinitely (and I mean that, she pretty much gives up leaving her childhood room, even to use the bathroom, halfway into the book) after she discovers that her ~magic phone (and expect to hear that phrase about 900 times in the book) calls Neal in the past and she becomes obsessed with speaking with him until dawn and then trying to sabotage her then-relationship with him because... gosh, I couldn't tell you.

 

The biggest problem is that this plot only works if you care about the characters and their relationship and I really didn't. Most of the time, I kept hoping the book would surprise me and have Georgie realize that she and Neal were completely miserable with each other, but every time she thought about how awful Neal treated her, she followed it up with some minor good thing he did and then declared that she never doubted he always loved her. Even when her family, her best friend, her coworkers were saying that Neal had finally left and that Georgie would survive their divorce, Georgie continually said that there were no problems in their relationship and that everything was perfect. It really read like one of those relationships where everyone on the outside can see that something is wrong.

Also, like other reviewers, I wondered how this relationship made it out of the first week of dating, let alone 15 years of marriage. I understand that Georgie worked a lot and that, in the flashback scenes showed that they had a few conversations about what they wanted (which felt rushed to me, and come to think of it I can actually only remember one conversation where Georgie said, "I want kids and a house and I wanna work on this amazing show I have in my head!" and that conversation made me entirely question whether or not Georgie had actually really thought any of her life plans through.), but other than that, it seemed like Georgie was always working and Neal was always being passive-aggressively angry at her for not being what he wanted her to be.


Was there any part of this book I liked? The sentiment that all pizza is perfect, but I could easily find that type of philosophy on Tumblr, so...