Narrator: Rebecca Lowman
Length: 9 hours, 3 minutes
Personal Enjoyment Factor: 3.5/5
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.
Georgie McCool, a workaholic sitcom writer, is married to Neal, stay-at-home-dad extraordinaire. They have two beautifully quirky little girls and a home in sunny, fast-paced Los Angeles. When Georgie decides to miss Christmas with Neal's family in his hometown in Nebraska to write scripts for her dream show, she suddenly has to face challenges in their relationship that began even before they married. Their love for each other is undeniable, but is it enough to bridge two imperfect people with different personalities and backgrounds?
When Neal does not answer any of Georgie's calls while he's in Nebraska, she goes into a nosedive. She can't concentrate on writing, despite the efforts of Seth, her long-time work partner/best friend who just happens to look like he walked off the cover of GQ. She ends up staying with her mom, in her old room, where she calls Neal on her old rotary landline. He answers (Yes!) But it's not present-day Neal on the other end of the line. She realizes she is talking to Neal from 1998--before marriage, after a quasi-breakup, and separated again (or before?) by the miles between L.A. and Omaha.
The conversations on the landline and Georgie's recollections of their courtship reveal a heart-warming love story in the context of reality-- tough choices, incompatibilities, demanding work schedules, the sacrifice of personal dreams, conflicting loyalties, the challenges of parenthood. How powerful does love need to be to overcome real life? How much do our choices and actions add to or diminish that power? The unlikely magical yellow phone is just the tool that Georgie needs to figure out her marriage and if she and Neal were meant to be together, or if Neal would be better off without her.
I'm ashamed to admit that for most of the book I took a side--Neal's. I was annoyed with Georgie. I thought she was more clueless than she needed to be--if only she took some time out of her busy schedule to consider Neal's feelings, their marriage would have had a more solid footing. And of course Neal feels threatened that Georgie spends more hours with Seth than him and the girls and chose to miss Christmas with the family for work. Who wouldn't? But Neal probably could have done a better job of communicating. I guess. Maybe I was blind to his weaknesses out of a sense of solidarity for stay-at-home parents.
However, the book is not really at all about taking sides, hence my shame. It's about relationships and their inherent flaws and vulnerabilities. It's probably been mentioned hundreds of thousands of times that Rowell is a master of writing about relationships. I've only read two of her books so far, but I would enthusiastically agree. She delves deep, looks at everything from all angles, and manages to make you laugh through it all.
It's a testament to Rowell's writing skills, and/or some sort of soul-sister bond, that I enjoyed something that could be categorized as romance or chick lit. If you are scared of "cheese" as I tend to be, let me declare this book "cheese-free." I know that may be hard to believe since the plot hinges on a phone capable of time travel, but it's true. Sci-fi + chick-lit somehow works when Rowell writes it.
Note on the audiobook: Rebecca Lowman did a great job reading this--the narration was perfect. I was riveted while I Got Stuff Done. A warning to those who don't like bad language: you'll get an earful of the f-word. I think it's by far Rowell's favorite expletive ;)