Landline by Rainbow Rowell

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Full disclosure, I listened to Landline as an audiobook, which may have heightened my irritation. Annoying characters in fiction are one thing, but when they are talking straight into your ears, they’re doubly annoying. But I won’t pull any punches, either. I didn’t like this novel very much, and I don’t think I’d like it much better if I had read it. I want to love Rainbow Rowell – Fangirl is one of my favorite YA novels in recent memory – but she keeps BORING me.

Landline suffers from the same thing that Eleanor & Park suffered from – boring characters with a boring love story, worrying about their boring conflict. Conflict that could be so easily solved if the characters just communicated with each other, and not in a charming sitcom way.

There were times where I was physically annoyed at how boring the narrative dared to be in Landline. No, I don’t want to hear a drawn out chapter about the main character being hungover, waking up at noon, not brushing her teeth, and then taking forever to get to work because she had to have a flashback memory about meeting her husband. The flashback memory? A boring conversation that more or less showed that the man she chose to marry, Neal – fucking Neal – is actually someone who has purposely disliked her their entire relationship. Not only is that boring, it’s MADDENING.

Georgie, our main character, is a wife, mother of two daughters, and TV comedy writer. She sounds cool, right? At the start of the novel, she and her writing partner, Seth, are offered a chance to write a new sitcom for a major producer. Not only that, it’s a show the pair has been dreaming of writing for years. The problem comes in when Georgie needs to stay in LA to write the show and attend meetings over the week of Christmas. She had originally planned to go with her family to visit Neal’s mother in Nebraska. And, the plane tickets are already bought, so Neal makes the executive decision that the family will still be going to Nebraska. Without Georgie.

Alright, I thought. Sounds sensible. Except Neal spends the next week IGNORING HIS WIFE’S CALLS LIKE A SAD THIRTEEN YEAR OLD BOY.

SOUNDS LIKE A KEEPER, RIGHT?

Instead of spending the next week writing an awesome television show and realizing her dreams, Georgie spends the week frantically trying to get in touch with her man child of a husband who is punishing her for having the nerve to choose her career over going to Omaha for four fucking days.

Basically, the whimsical part of the story is that Georgie, in her frantic husbandless state, goes to her mother’s house and tries to call Neal on a landline telephone. And–MAGIC ALERT–she reaches Neal. But it’s NEAL FROM THE 90s! College Neal. Neal before he proposed. So, the rest of the novel is Georgie talking to her old boyfriend. And, surprise: he was a miserable man child back then, too!

“Neal, neal, neal,” Georgie purrs, over and over again, so happy to hear her husband’s voice. And I’m thinking – why? Rowell gives us nothing to go on – why a funny, successful woman would be so in love with someone who keeps punishing her emotionally for being a funny, successful woman is beyond my understanding. A house husband who resents living in LA, resents Georgie for hanging out with TV writers, resents Georgie for working late nights, resents Georgie…for being Georgie. I hate that Rowell tries to pass this off for a love story. If this is what love is, I’d send it back.

This is where Landline completely falls. No amount of magic phones can make a story with such an unlikeable couple interesting to me. But I’m rooting for Rainbow Rowell. I like her characters, sometimes. Georgie and Seth were awesome. She just makes some poor choices – Neal, Neal, Neal. And, we never do find out if Georgie’s TV show gets picked up–which is just disheartening.

So, unless you love chapter-long telephone conversations about nothing in particular and stories of women choosing their unsupportive husbands over their careers, give this one a pass.

 

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We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge

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We Love You, Charlie Freeman is about a black family that moves into a research institute to teach a chimp sign language. Throughout their stay, the institute’s history of eugenics experiments involving black people comes to light, and the main character, a teenage girl named Charlotte, starts to have the suspicion that history is repeating itself.

I find monkeys to be inherently unlikeable characters – don’t ask me why – and Charlie Freeman, the chimp in this novel, sort of proves my point. He’s a jerk. (On the subject of how nobody wants to read an adult novel about a chimp, here is my favorite review of this book on Goodreads so far.) But it turns out the novel isn’t really about him.

Nor is it really about Charlotte, who is a likable and smart teenager, but ultimately forgettable. The character I will remember from this novel is Charlotte’s mother, who was perplexing. The Freeman family was involved in the experiment at the mother’s insistence, and her relationship with Charlie quickly becomes sickeningly close. I had trouble grasping why the mother did what she did throughout much of the novel, but the novel is peppered with little tidbits about her that left me wanting more. She used black sign language out of principle. She was aspiring for career success and saw the experiment with Charlie as a way to prove her own importance. I was intrigued by her, but by the end the reader sees her the way her family sees her: through a lens of confused horror.

Still, Greenidge covers a lot of ground: eugenics, the way the scientific community can slant with prejudice, the racist depiction of black people as apes, and the limits of language when it comes to race. There is a lot to unpack here, which is why I was confused by how rushed it all felt. Like with the mother’s characterization, I wish she had spent more time going in depth about the experiments, and the way they reverberate into the culture. She goes there, but doesn’t always deliver.

Overall, though, it’s a solid debut effort. I will be watching to see what Kaitlyn Greenidge writes next.