First love, young love, unexpected love—any kind of love with a deep vein of naiveté and innocence—this is Rainbow Rowell’s wheelhouse. She manages to capture raw emotion with a wave of nostalgia that captivates not only her primary audience of young adult readers, but also those of us who, at least in theory, have moved past the age of soaring crushes and crushing heartbreak.
Rowell’s new novel, Landline, aims to capture adult fans with the story of sitcom writer Georgie and the conflict between her relationship with her best friend, the womanizing Seth, and her husband, the long-suffering Neal. Thankfully, Rowell avoids the played-out chick-lit love triangle and creates a much more interesting story of the tension between friendship and love, and between a successful woman’s work life and her family life. Georgie has complicated choices even before she discovers the magic telephone.
That’s right—the title refers to an old phone Georgie uses to call college-age Neal, the boy she fell in love with. Rowell uses the phone to play with the differences between old technology and new, and she leverages it to echo the differences in the relationship between young-in-love college students and the married adults they grow up to be.
The sci-fi elements make Landline a bit of a bumpy ride, and Rowell’s description of adult relationships lacks the authentic feeling of her description of young love. Still, her characters are incredibly true-to-life, and her writing is consistently fun. We may not all have access to magic phones, but Landline gives us all a way to travel back in time and remember the emotional roller coaster of loves we may have left behind.
Carrie Rollwagen writes from Birmingham, Alabama, where she is the co-owner of Church Street Coffee & Books.