What to do with Landline: How to classify genre benders

November 19, 2015 Books 10


It’s Sci-Fi Month, courtesy of Rinn Reads and Over the Effing Rainbow! If you want to get involved, you can check out the details here. Today I wanted to discuss a recent book I read that blurs the line between contemporary and sci-fi: Landline by Rainbow Rowell.


To me, Rainbow Rowell is a fantastic writer. She really excels at dialogue and building very interesting characters. I recently saw Rowell on a panel during NerdCon, and she talked a little bit about how a lot of herself is in her stories, which may be why they feel so realistic. That, and the majority (Carry On now excluded) are contemporary works of fiction. Landline toes the line though: its major conceit is a landline phone that allows the main character to speak with her husband from the past.

Admittedly, Landline isn’t my favorite story of Rowell’s. It might be my least, though I still would give it 3/5. I felt too wrapped into the head of Georgie, who has decided to stay in LA  to work on her tv show while her family goes to Nebraska for Christmas. I’ve never read a story from the perspective of such a chaotic mess of a character. Seriously, this grown woman has to borrow her mother’s clothes because she can’t be bothered to go home and change. One desperate night after her cell dies for the 1,000 time, she tries using the landline phone at her parent’s house to get a hold of her hubby and it connects her to Neal from before they were married.

The whole plot really hinges on this one concept, a time traveling phone. There’s no explanation as to why this particular phone connects her to young Neal, but it does. It is undoubtedly written as a contemporary novel first and foremost, but then BAM! there’s a time travel phone that makes it kind of science fiction. Ish. Science-fiction-ish. 

I have read a few books that blur between sci-fi and fantasy, but never sci-fi and contemporary. How do you classify this book? It probably is too much on the realistic fiction side to really appeal to speculative fiction lovers. I also feel like if I was to recommend this to someone looking for a contemporary story, I would but a big asterisk on it.

The big “ah-ha” of the book is related to the time travel paradox. View Spoiler » I actually appreciated this, but it was very down-played.

Maybe this isn’t much of a question, after all. I wonder if there are there many other books that use some sci-fi elements to enhance or enable their plot, but don’t actually focus on incorporating sci-fi into the rest of the world.  I have a hard time telling if this made the story better, or any worse. On one hand, it brought up some interesting questions about relationships (can you be the same people for each other after years together? Is that initial love stage version of you the be-all?). On the other though, I really was hoping for a bit more explanation on why there is a phone that allows you to traverse time.

book reviews by anne engelhart

I might have been phoning this one in guys… (harhar) What do you think about genre bending stories that blur real and speculative elements? Have you read any? If you had a phone that could call back in time, who would you speak to?

10 Responses to “What to do with Landline: How to classify genre benders”

  1. Beth @ Fuelled by Fiction

    Honestly, I have still yet to read a Rainbow Rowell book (though I own three!). I don’t read a lot of contemporary, but the fantastical Carry On definitely appeals to me! This one sounds pretty interesting too. I definitely have read a few stories with little whimsical elements like this in them (sort of). Like anything by A.S. King! Although, hers are less whimsical and more… I don’t know. Dark? But not totally dark. I don’t know. Anyway… When it’s mostly realistic fiction but has a thread of something magical, it’s called Magical Realism! And it’s one of my favourite genres :)

    • Anne

      Is it magical realism? Huh. I didn’t think of that. I picture more fantasy elements than sci-fi, but this probably falls in that realm. Maybe its the time travel part that makes me think sci-fi not fantasy. What a blurry distinction!

  2. Lauren (Bookmark Lit)

    I think the magical realism thing makes sense, if you were to think of the phone as a MAGIC PHONE instead of a time-traveling phone. But, either way, I know what you mean! This one is a tough one to classify for that reason. That phone and her conversations with past-Neal definitely are the main point of the plot…but it has such a major contemporary vibe overall. I’m trying to think of other books like this too.

    • Anne

      I agree with that. Because without the magical timey-wimey phone there would not be much of a plot. Though with the phone there isn’t much of a plot… Not the strongest Rowell showing. :/

  3. Maraia

    You know, it never even occurred to me to mark this as anything other than “adult fiction.” I think the fact that Rainbow Rowell didn’t explain how the phone work means that she doesn’t have the answer, and it was just a convenient way to tell her story. I guess that’s why I would still consider it fiction instead of sci-fi.

    I think I would call my great-grandfather, because he died when I was 10, too young to really start asking him questions about family history, etc. Also, it would be cool to show off my (rusty) German skills. I think that would make him happy.

    • Anne

      I got the feeling that there isn’t an answer and its just a plot device. Which makes it less sci-fi and more magical realism as Beth pointed out. Didn’t even consider that! The wisdom of the crowd, I guess.

      And I love your answer. I bet he would have been very happy even if your German was rusty. :)

  4. Rinn

    I gave Landline the same rating as you – for me it didn’t work as well as Fangirl because I couldn’t connect to Georgie. But I did love the idea of a time-travelling phone!

  5. Valerie

    Oh yes I loved the concept of the landline allowing you to call people from the past, but like you, I also didn’t love love this book compared to her YA books. I also wanted to know 1) Why this phone existed and 2) HOW DID IT WORK. I’m sure neither of those questions are easy to answer, but still, I like having answers.

    I actually love it when books blend real and speculative elements. I mean sure, some things are left unexplained unfortunately, but it’s still an interesting concept :)

  6. Jeann @ Happy Indulgence

    Magical realism just doesn’t work with me, it’s either contemporary or it’s SFF but when you combine the both that’s just when I go…huh? I wasn’t the biggest fan of Landline because of this fact. Lovely review Anne!

Leave a Reply