Rainbow Rowell made a name for herself penning last year’s funny and heartfelt young-adult fiction novels Fangirl and Eleanor & Park, the latter of which is headed to the big screen and has already been labeled “the next The Fault in Our Stars.” (As if a great YA novel can’t stand on its own.) Her fourth book, Landline, is the best-selling author’s first novel of adult fiction since her 2011 debut, Attachments, but the labels aren’t worth stressing: Landline might not have any teenage protagonists, but it does have all the pleasures of Rowell’s YA work — immediate writing that’s warm and energetic — even if it’s not her strongest love story to date.
In Landline, out now, television writer Georgie McCool gets stuck at work the week of Christmas while her fed-up husband Neal takes the kids to Omaha for the holidays, leaving Georgie to wonder if the rift in their marriage has finally reached its breaking point. When she discovers a magical landline in her childhood home that connects her to a Neal from the past, she has a chance to save their marriage — or save them the trouble and prevent it from happening.
If that all sounds like a great premise for an offbeat rom-com, you’re right — Landline probably should be. Reading the dialogue-heavy novel at times feels like reading a script that’s meant to be fleshed out on screen later. While moments of stream-of-consciousness narration captured the intense, messy thoughts of two teenagers falling in love in the excellent Eleanor & Park, similar moments and inner monologues border on repetitive in Landline. That’s not to say grown-ups with kids can’t ever think like teenagers (or vice versa), it’s just that these characters aren’t Rowell’s most memorable: Georgie’s back-and-forth fretting about Neal doesn’t have the same stakes when readers don’t get to know the couple or their marriage as well as they did, say, Cath and Levi, characters from Fangirl who felt so real and complete it’s no surprise they’ve inspired volumes of fan art.
There are other frustrations. Rowell has a knack for toying with readers’ instincts — leading them toward one conclusion for pages and pages and then suddenly and thrillingly confirming or subverting those suspicions — but one of Landline’s twists, if you can call it that, is too predictable to be truly satisfying. The novel also sets out to explore a number of worthwhile questions, like whether Georgie can achieve the oh-so-elusive work-life balance, but instead of answering them all, it leaves a few hanging.
Despite these complaints, though, Landline won’t do much to diminish enthusiasm for Rowell or her upcoming projects. When the author announced she’d be handling the screenplay for the Eleanor & Park movie, Rowell was up for the challenge. “I have never written a screenplay” she told MTV, “but I had never written a book before I wrote a book. I’m going to do my best.” If Landline is any indication, she has little to worry about. The book’s most enjoyable moments — like the quippy banter between Georgie and her family — are the same ones most deserving of a screen adaptation.