Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Landline & Attachments by Rainbow Rowell, a double review

Wagon wheels at Rocky Ridge Orchard in Bowdoin, Maine

Rainbow Rowell captures the cool geek voice of my generation. She uses just the right amount of pop cultural references to place a book in its decade without making the story feel too dated. Her quirky characters are smart and well-meaning but lack judgment. We love them because we can relate to their mistakes. Rowell is best known for her bestseller young adult novels, Eleanor & Park and Fangirl, but she also wrote two novels for adults.

Attachments (2011) was Rowell's impressive debut. Twenty-something Lincoln is still living with his mom at the end of the millennium. His job at the local newspaper is to prevent a Y2K crash and to monitor employee use of email. Beth, a music and film reviewer, and Jennifer, a copy editor, raise flags for using work email for personal chit chat, but instead of issuing a warning, Lincoln reads their exchanges and falls in love with Beth before first sight. Lincoln knows snooping is wrong, but he can't stop anymore than we can stop reading this bittersweet romance.

Although I found the premise creepy, Lincoln was a sympathetic character and the cyber security issues still felt relevant today. It was nice to see a close friendship between two women portrayed realistically through the ups and downs of life. Sometimes, however, this realism became too mundane, which is the downside of using email to tell a story. This narrative device was especially irritating in my audio book since every email exchange was tagged with the sender's and recipient's full names. The listening experience improved when the characters interacted in real time. I often stayed in the garage to finish a chapter. Attachments would translate well to the screen, as it reminded me of You've Got Mail. If you loved that movie, read this book.

Landline (July, 2014), Rowell's latest, is a contemporary realistic novel with a touch of magic. Georgie McCool's marriage is crumbling. She's so wrapped up in pitching a new TV series that she doesn't notice that her husband, who is home raising their kids, has left her until a day after her family is gone. Georgie returns to her childhood home and discovers that her old landline phone allows her to speak to her husband in the past.

Given the opportunity to do-over, what would Georgie change? This compelling question was well explored in the narrative, however, the magic phone was never explained. It thus felt like a plot gimmick and didn't integrate well with this otherwise realistic story. Still, I enjoyed the book for the well-developed characters and their witty banter. I often had to put the book down to laugh.
Georgie's dog-breeder mom:
"Kids are perceptive, Georgie. They're like dogs" - she offered a meatball from her own fork to the pug in her lap - "they know when their people are unhappy."
"I think you may just have reverse-anthropomorphized your own grandchildren."
Set over Christmas, Landline reads like a modern retelling of It's a Wonderful Life with a feminist twist. If you know someone who lives for holiday specials, Landline would make a wonderful Christmas present. Attachments in paperback (not audiobook) would make a good gift too. Rowell's YA books would be a better match for the teenagers and maybe some adults on your list.

Although I prefer Rowell's young adult fiction over her novels for adults, it's nice to see an author who can cross back in forth between marketing categories. Her YA books have more gritty realism and are less sentimental so I hope she writes more. I'd read any book written by Rainbow Rowell; she's one of my favorite authors. Her writing inspires my writing too.


David Cranmer said...

Thanks for the book tips, Sarah. I have a good friend who is quite the fan of Rainbow Rowell. Well now two friends. :)

Amanda Summer said...

Another set of great reviews. I've never heard of this author but what a fantastic name - quite memorable.

p.s. I love It's a Wonderful Life - we watch it every Christmas Eve.

A Cuban In London said...

Thanks for the reviews. I have mixed feelings about YOu've Got Mail, however. Maybe because it's dated somewhat since I last saw it. I'm really interested in Attachments. Will definitely keep it in mind.

Greetings from London.

troutbirder said...

Well Georgies dog breeder mom is right on one thing, dogs do know when their people are unhappy...:)

Optimistic Existentialist said...

You reviews are always so concise. I wish you a wonderful weekend!!

walk2write said...

Who could forget a name like Rainbow? She takes the publishing world by storm and then proceeds to wow it with colorful stories, ultimately finding a pot of gold waiting for her! The novel with the phone reminds me of an episode I saw years ago on Night Gallery or something similar. There was an old lady who was bedridden and constantly plagued by her phone ringing in the middle of the night when the nurse had gone home. She would answer the call, but there was no sound (at first) on the other end of the line. After some investigation by the phone company, a line connected to her house had fallen directly on her husband's grave some distance away. Creepy, indeed!

Rose said...

I always appreciate your great reviews, Sarah! My 11-year-old granddaughter has become quite the bookworm and has quite a few books on her Christmas list--as you can imagine, this makes me so happy. I will have to see if this author is one she might enjoy; she leans toward fantasy, though.

I just finished reading a biography of Harper Lee last week; I'm hoping I can find the time to write a review of it for the next book review club meeting.

Wishing you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving!