Access to the past and fretting about every single word said makes for the kind of fun that keeps you up at night asking if the path you're on is true, or just happenstance. Time here is a straight line that loops back on itself through a rotary dial telephone.
The more palatable name of the child's game of Chinese Whispers is Telephone. What you say at one end will end up in some variant of itself or just plain nonsensical when it reaches the other end. Landline sends a message that ends up being some variant of itself and perhaps plays on that game, where Georgie McCool of now talks with her husband, Neal from his past.
The novel never dissects how shared the delusion is, or if the phone was real in the first place and her family were just playing along with the psychotic break that might come from a fracturing marriage.
It drops the nugget of a time travelling phone into your lap and leaves you there standing out in the street watching as the snow falls and you question the question of questioning sanity. It's an interesting side note, given it's Georgie's mother's phone. Does her mum have access to this magic telephone, and if so, did she ever make use of it? Does she still?
We're veering off the true matter here. It's not about the technology of the phone. It's about the ability to tap into that part of your brain that holds onto the doubt and second-guessing. That chunk devoted to going over and over memories and past conversations with a snaggletoothed comb. Is your relationship, your marriage, your life, based on settling down or a compromise that's just waiting forever to dissipate into a nothingness and a void of its own complacency?
Neal hung up. Because it was that easy for him. For a second, Georgie wished he knew—who she really was, when she really was, everything. Neal wouldn't just hang up on her like that if he knew he was hanging up on the future. You don't hang up a magic phone.
The tension comes from a future trying to understand the past, and having a conversation with it. The angst, the unknowing, the dialogue that falls on the page is fitted with a kind of hesitation and anxiousness. Crossing the infinite moments between the start of a relationship and all its options for what's to come with the pain and/or experience of what has, and looking back on it.
It certainly colours the outlook, and here we see how much of it is a struggle to contain. That opportunity to see into the past and wonder how or why things ended up where we are today. What decisions led to certain forks in the road. It's a constant between fixing an outwardly broken marriage and trying to kickstart its heart. Whimsy, and that feeling of floating on clouds is there, but so too the darkness questioning the situation, the plausibility and indeed the existence of it all.
Landline rests on a fear of listening to your heart and hearing it shrug back with compromise and regret. A tribute to the heady days when a couple starts to form and the worry that cycles through your mind as you bunker down and wonder if any of it really happened because it should have.
Reviewed on Sunday, 13 July 2014