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Landline

September 24, 2014

The story of Georgie, the working mom in Rainbow Rowell’s new novel Landline struck me as a familiar story, but from the other side—I was the stay-at-home parent, working around the pre-school schedule in order to be available for supervising and chauffeuring when the kids’ school day ended. So I missed very little of their growing up.

Ron, on the other hand, was like Georgie, who says that talking on the phone to her kids “always made her realize that she was missing them. Actually missing them. That they kept on growing and changing when she wasn’t there.”

This situation comes to a head in the novel when Georgie gets a big break at work and it means that she has to tell her stay-at-home husband, Neal, that she can’t join him and their two little girls at his parents’ house in Omaha for Christmas. He goes without her, not happy about it, and doesn’t answer her calls and texts…until she calls him from the landline in her childhood bedroom, where she discovers that somehow she is talking to Neal as she knew him in college, when they were first in love and unsure about it.

Georgie knows that they’re married and have kids, but all the telephone Neal seems to know is that they’re trying to figure out whether he can fit into her life, a life that has become everything she feared about “late nights [and] missed dinners.” They say they love each other, but that it “might not be enough.”

By the middle of the novel, Georgie is hooked on the phone calls. As she says, “she had to call. You can’t just ignore a phone that calls into the past. You can’t know it’s there and not call.”

Having been married since I was twenty-two, I especially liked the parts about what it feels like to have been married for a long time:
“You don’t know when you’re twenty-three.
You don’t know what it really means to crawl into someone else’s life and stay there. You can’t see all the ways you’re going to get tangled, how you’re going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten—in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.”

Similarly, I like Georgie’s metaphor about how committing to someone is like tossing a ball:
“It’s like…you’re tossing a ball between you, and you’re just hoping you can keep it in the air. And it has nothing to do with whether you love each other or not. If you didn’t love each other, you wouldn’t be playing this stupid game with this ball. You love each other—and you just hope you can keep the ball in play.”

Even more, I like what Georgie says about how having kids changes a marriage:
“Georgie was pretty sure that having kids was the worst thing you could do to a marriage. Sure, you could survive it. You could survive a giant boulder falling on your head—that didn’t mean it was good for you.
Kids took a fathomless amount of time and energy…And they took it first. They had right of first refusal on everything you had to offer.
At the end of the day—after work, after trying to spend some sort of meaningful time with Alice and Noomi—Georgie was usually too tired to make things right with Neal before they fell asleep. So things stayed wrong. And the girls just kept giving them something else to talk about, something else to focus on…
Something else to love.
When Georgie and Neal were smiling at each other, it was almost always over Alice and Noomi’s heads.
And Georgie wasn’t sure she’d risk changing that…even if she could.
Having kids sent a tornado through you marriage, then made you happy for the devastation. Even if you could rebuild everything just the way it was before, you’d never want to.
If Georgie could talk to herself in the past, before the scales tipped, what would she say? What could she say?
Love him.
Love him more.
Would that make a difference?”

When Georgie promises not to take Neal for granted anymore, they have a conversation I’ve never heard from her side before:
“’You don’t take me for granted.’
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I do.’
‘You just get caught up—‘
‘I take for granted that you’ll be there when I’m done doing whatever it is I’m doing. I take for granted that you’ll love me no matter what.’
‘You do?’
‘Yes. Neal, I’m so sorry.’
‘Don’t be sorry,’ he said. ‘I want you to take that for granted. I will love you no matter what.’”

In the end, young Neal is thinking that if you are “with the right person….if you got that part right, how far wrong could you go?” And older Georgie starts to remember the truth of that feeling. It’s kind of like how for a while, disappointed in my career, when I heard the Gershwin tune “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” I thought of the David Lodge novel Nice Work, forgetting that the song is actually about love.

In the end of course, Georgie has to make the grand gesture, like Stanley Kowalski bellowing “STELLA!” into the night. She comes home and there’s a happy ending. Even though not everything about her life is resolved, the most important thing is, and she has re-experienced its importance.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2014 2:16 pm

    I really loved this book. You picked out several quotes that were my favorites, some of which I included in my review, others of which I felt I had talked to long to go on to include also. 😀

    • September 24, 2014 9:55 pm

      Rowell’s writing is so conversational, and so easy to read. It’s easy to want to quote lots of it, I think.
      And hey, look–we agree on a book!

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