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The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale

I'm going to warn you upfront that I had an extreme reaction to this book. An extreme and unexpected reaction. Just ask DH. He had to listen to me rant ad nauseam until I'd exorcised the demons enough to move on. The thing is I haven't reacted so strongly to a book for quite some time and it took me a bit by surprise. Oh, well, who are we kidding? It threw me for one hell of a loop and I had an extremelyhard time shaking it off. Despite all this I'm going to try to continue my tradition of spoiler-free reviews and, as a result, won't be able to tell you the precise reasons why I reacted the way I did. I won't be able to go into excruciating detail explaining exactly how and when my emotions bounced back and forth. But let's be honest. That's probably for the best. So.

Becky Jack is a Mormon housewife living in Layton, Utah, pregnant with her fourth child. She has just sold a screenplay to a film agency in LA and is meeting them there to sign the contract, when in walks Felix Callahan--sexy British star of Becky's favorite romantic comedies. The two of them clash right from the start and, despite their visible disdain for one another (and the fact that Felix has long been Becky's movie star crush), they find themselves staying at the same hotel and eating dinner together that night. Becky returns to Utah sure it was some fluke, a fun story to tell the fam, and that she'll never see Felix again. Au contraire, Becky. Turns out Felix hasn't been able to get their abrasive encounter out of his head and the next time he has a layover in Salt Lake City, he turns up to see her and figure out what the deal is. From there these two unlikely characters become the very best of friends. Talk on the phone daily, stay up all night long talking, drop everything to jet off to New York at a moment's notice kind of BFFs. As you might expect, a whole host of factors get in the way of their "friendship," including at times concerned/jealous spouses, their different faiths (or rather Becky's strict one and Felix's utter lack of one), their diametrically opposed lifestyles, etc. Self-proclaimed platonic lovers, these two weather the small and large storms of life as their friendship and story stretches out over a decade and more.

I'll preface my comments by saying I have read all of Shannon Hale's YA books. I love her Books of Bayern and thought her first adult novel Austenland was a fun, light romp for Austen fans. I expected to like this book just fine. I knew it would be quirky and different and fun. I certainly didn't go in expecting a happy ending because, well, given the subject matter who would? I laughed my way through the first 100 pages because any scene Becky and Felix share sparkles. I even cried. Once. At a scene about 80 pages in or so that was just so real (and a little close to home) it struck me in the gut. However, I felt that the next 250 pages were an uneven roller coaster ride of conflicting emotions, increasingly hard-to-swallow turns of event, and very inconsistent characterizations. Every aspect of the story felt so deliberate and pre-planned that it got in the way of my reading experience. It was strangely a prime example of too much telling and not enough showing. The narrator and Becky herself told me over and over (and over again) how much she was in love with her solid-as-a-brick-wall husband, how little Felix meant to her compared to Mike, how she would never do anything to jeopardize her marriage, etc. Her actions spoke differently. The actual depiction of her marriage was lukewarm at best. The rock Mike was too vague an image to grasp onto. Next to Felix he was a mere smudge. Felix clearly meant an inexplicable amount to Becky. And vice versa. These two cannot function properly without each other. They will always be returning to each other. The crystal clear, most evocative, and resonant depictions were of Becky and Felix. And it was simply too difficult for me to buy everything Becky was saying in the face of what she was showing me page after page. The Actor and the Housewife is an exploration of whether or not married men and women can be friends and just friends. The answer is, of course, yes. But that is not what Becky and Felix are. I know that's what they're supposed to be. But they're not. They are intimates. They are soulmates. That is the way every encounter, ever glance, every touch is characterized. The intent seemed to be some sort of Humphrey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman-Paul Henreid triangle a la Casablanca. The result was a Rock Hudson-Doris Day-Tony Randall anti-triangle a la Pillow Talk. And by the time the overwrought, rushed ending arrived I felt so completely jerked around I was unable to deal with the melodrama a moment longer.

I'm really sorry it ended this way, The Actor and the Housewife. I know you've gotten a lot of positive reviews and it's quite possible it's me and not you. In case that is true I'm including a rather longer list of other reviews than is my norm. So readers can decide for themselves. As for you and me, I think it's time we start seeing other people.

Comments

  1. Excellent review - I still think I want to read it, but then I've never gotten around to reading Austenland, so who knows. . .

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  2. Wow.. you really REACTED to this book. I love all of Shannon Hale's books that I've read so far, but this one just doesn't sound like it would appeal to me.

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  3. Humm I don't know stories about women who let friendships with men go a little far always turn me off. Call me an old married lady but they do. Great review though. I love how animated you are.

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  4. I mentioned in my review that this book is not for everybody, as I suspected some would have strong reaction to it. Looks like you fall into that classification. Sorry it didn't work out for you.

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  5. Ah! We need these reactions. We have to know what we don't like to know what we do like. Any book that makes you talk, rant, squeal, whatever...that's a book worth the time!

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  6. I've tagged you!
    http://theclockmonkey2.blogspot.com/2009/07/whats-on-your-desk-wednesday.html

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  7. After reading several reviews, I had the feeling I wouldn't like the way this book ended (I kind of figured out what the ending was), so I haven't added this to my list. I just picked up Austenland yesterday - glad to hear it's good!

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  8. I guess I should get back to this book, I read about 80 pages so far. I like their friendship but was kind of like: where can this go because they're both in love with their spouses right?

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  9. Janssen, thank you. I felt bad about being so negative. And I think you should read it to see for yourself.

    NotNessie, lol. I really did, didn't I? Just that kind of book, I guess.

    Juju, and just think--this was me after cooling off for a few days! *shakes head at self* The thing was she kept insisting she wasn't in love with him and her husband was so great. If that was the case then I would have expected a more richer depiction of the husband and less utter dependence on the "friend" to get by.

    Natasha, I read your review before reading it and I still thought I'd like it. And I didn't dislike it for the same reasons many other people did. It came off to me as incredibly self-indulgent storytelling, manipulative and clunky. Hence the feeling completely shattered because I love Shannon Hale. She is a beautiful writer. Sigh.

    KB, I think you're right. And it was probably time for me to freak out over a book. I've had a good run of simply excellent storytelling lately. Time to shake up my system, I guess. :)

    Ella, thanks! Checking it out right now.

    Belle, and it wasn't even the bare facts of the ending that bothered me. I expected them from the beginning. It was the path to them that upset me so. Glad you picked up AUSTENLAND. I enjoyed it.

    Janice, yeah. It's a dead end street from page one. But I was fully prepared to enjoy the ride and their friendship. Unfortunately, I found Becky herself to be so unlikeable as to make the journey a misery. I haven't physically thrown a book at the wall for a long time. But I came THIS close with this one. I would love to hear your thoughts upon finishing it, though.

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  10. Ah, i've been waiting for this review. I think you did well. Probably a good thing you cooled off for a week. :) I'm still on the fence about reading this book. After reading your review I can see how much of it would bother me. we'll see.

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  11. Amazing review. I'm with Elisa about being on the fence about reading this. The concept is intriguing itself though. Well, I'll have to read it and see.

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  12. Elisa, grin. Thanks. It probably is a good thing. I fully support your decision to read it or not. :)

    Connie, thank you! The concept is intriguing, though I would say near impossible to pull off. I was hoping she would. And clearly for some people she did. Just not me. Maybe for you, though!

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  13. I love that you publically broke up with this book. I hope it takes it well and isn't spending the week crying it's pages to sleep every night.

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  14. Carrie, hehehe. Apparently that's what it took for me to move on. I hope it has as well.

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