Neal Grafton is the caregiver in his family of four, because his wife, Georgie McCool, is a successful television comedy writer, and the two girls, Noomi, 4, and Alice, 7, still require full-time tending.
As the story begins, the whole family is about to leave for a Christmas visit to Neal’s mother’s home in Omaha, when Georgie has to cancel. She and her writing partner since college, Seth, have an opportunity to get a show of their own if they can come up with four episodes by December 27th.
Neal is hurt, maybe angry, but he takes the kids and goes without Georgie. She keeps trying to call him in Omaha, but he doesn’t pick up his cell phone, and soon the message box is full. So Georgie, now sleeping at her parents’ house, gets her old landline out of the closet and calls the Grafton’s landline. But when she reaches Neal, it is Neal from fifteen years before, the first time he left her for Omaha before Christmas.
Georgie is pretty sure Neal isn’t happy any more. Maybe now, with their nightly conversations in this bizarre time gap, she has a chance to make it right. But making it right could mean one of two things: Georgie could take the altruistic high road, and encourage Neal to go on and be happy without Georgie, or Georgie could try harder, and fight to save her marriage to this man she still loves so much.
Discussion: I thought that Georgie’s meditations about what Neal meant to her were just lovely. I found it so touching how much Georgie looked forward to talking to Old Neal every night for hours and hours – the Neal before all the baggage of their marriage and the current contretemps:
“Georgie wasn’t ready to lose Neal yet. Even to her past self. She wasn’t ready to let him go. (Somebody had given Georgie a magic phone, and all she’d wanted to do with it was stay up late talking to her old boyfriend. If they’d given her a proper time machine, she probably would have used it to cuddle with him. Let somebody else kill Hitler.)”
As she considers what Neal means to her, she also gets insight into what she hasn’t meant to him:
“She should tell him about this magic phone insanity. Right now. She could tell him, she could always tell Neal anything. Georgie and Neal were bad at a lot of things, but they were good at being on each other’s side. Neal was especially good at being on Georgie’s side, at being there when she needed him.”
And then she thinks about all Neal does for her all the time. There is no listing of all that Georgie does for Neal, because, while she may be bringing in the salary, she has also spent a lot of time staying late at work (with Seth), and acting depressed or crazy or obsessed with fear of failure. But Neal was always there, always on her side.
Marriage, she thinks, also brought them closer:
“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.”
At the end, when Georgie makes her decision, it is totally in keeping with what we know about her. And Neal’s reaction is totally in keeping with what we know about him.
Evaluation: I loved this book. I think Rowell is just outstanding at crafting dialogue that is fast-paced and wickedly funny but yet still realistic. Her insight into relationships is excellent as well. I think it’s a mistake to focus on the magic phone – this book is all about dialogue and relationships, two aspects of writing at which Rowell excels.
Published by St. Martin’s Press, a division of Macmillan, 2014