Georgie’s marriage is on the rocks, but it’s always that way, so she doesn’t think much about it when her husband and children leave for Christmas at their grandparents without her. After all, she has to stay behind. She’s got an important deadline to meet, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Only then, her mother and sister start talking about divorce and sympathy, and Georgie starts to wonder. And she can’t get a hold of Neal. He won’t answer his phone or call her back. In desperation, she tries the landline at his mother’s house. The Neal who answers, however, is the Neal from 15 years ago, the last time they broke up, the last time he left her at Christmas, before they were engaged or married or had children together. Now, she has a chance to make her marriage right – or prevent it from ever happening at all.
Let me get the squeeing out of the way immediately: I loved loved loved this book! I really liked Fangirl, and I enjoyed Attachments, but I loved Landline. It was the right book, the right moment, the right everything. It’s one of those rare books that went immediately to my have-to-own list, before I even finished it (and which stayed there after I was done). Yes. This book. This this book.
Hem. Squeeing aside, I should explain why this book was so good. Apart from the obvious – great writing, great characterization, great pacing, etc – the book was incredibly unique. I don’t mean the call-back-in-time sections, which I’ve read before, and which, honestly, I found a little predictable. I mean the way this book handled marriage and divorce and parenting and relationships.
I’ve read books about divorce before. I’ve read books dealing with the aftermath of divorce (from both parents’ and children’s perspectives). I’ve read books about certain things leading up to divorce – abuse, neglect, infidelity, substance abuse, midlife crisis, etc. I’ve read books where only one partner wants to make a marriage work. What I have never read about is a marriage falling apart just because. I’ve never read about a marriage that is failing even as both partners try to make it work. I’ve never read about two people who love each other but really aren’t terribly right or compatible for each other. I’ve never read about two people who are obviously not perfect and definitely have their negative sides, but who are also generally good people with good traits. I’ve never read about two people whose good traits bring out the worst in each other, even as they are trying their hardest to bring out the best. I’ve never read a book that is simultaneously hopeful and hopeless, about a marriage which is both doomed merely because of the partners’ personalities and destined to hold together by sheer will, happy or not. This was fascinating. And really, really touching on a personal level.
Everyone has moments in their marriage that aren’t very good, I suspect, times that seem hopeless even as you want things to work out. Marriages where the two partners have very incompatible personalities, where the good in one brings out the worst in the other, and vice versa, are particularly hard. There’s no person or event or action to blame when things go bad, because no one did anything, and you’re both trying as hard as you can. When what makes one person happy simultaneously makes the other miserable, what else can you do? Compromise so that you’re both unhappy, if there’s no way for you both to be happy at the same time? Give up, ripping your family apart in the process and then living without the person you love more than anyone in the world?
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. She didn’t know at twenty-three.
Call it an unbalanced marriage – not broken, but the sort of marriage where you’re always having to tip the scales one way or another to try to stay on an even footing.
Things didn’t go bad between Georgie and Neal. Things were always bad – and always good. Their marriage was like a set of scales constantly balancing itself. And then, at some point, when neither of them was paying attention, they’d tipped so far into bad, they’d settled there. Now only an enormous amount of good would shift them back. An impossible amount of good.
That describes it exactly. And, as a person living in this exact kind of marriage, I know the trials, the difficulties, the determination it takes, and how hard, heartbreaking, painful it can be sometimes. Does it work? Can it work in the end? I don’t know, and one of the things I like about Landline is that it doesn’t answer the question. It only says you have to keep trying if you want to have the chance.
Nobody’s lives just fit together. Fitting together is something you work at. It’s something you make happen – because you love each other.
Everything in this book was so real, complete, accurate. I could say more. I want to say more. I want to throw the entire book at you in quotes. I haven’t even talked about the whole kids-destroy-everything-but-we’d-never-give-them-up bits, or the totally-accepted, non-traditional gender roles, or the I-am-superfluous-to-my-family parts. As I said before, this book hit me on every personal level possible. The right book, at the exact right moment. It instantly catapulted into my top books of the year list, and will most likely stay right at the top of that list.