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24 June 2009 @ 10:47 am
The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale  
I read this book last week in a rush (putting off my own writing because I couldn't help myself) and I have been thinking it over since then, to make sure what I thought of it. Sometimes you read a book and love it, but the feeling fades. And I loved this one so much, I kept worrying that it couldn't possibly be as wonderful as I thought it was. But I already feel the itch to reread it. It is that good.

First, this is a book that touched a personal chord for me. I don't know if the same thing will happen to other readers. The Actor and the Housewife is a book about a married woman in love with her husband and absorbed in mothering four young children, who falls in friendship love with another man. I had been through something like this and was astonished at how well Shannon got all the feelings right. Wondering where the line is drawn between friendship and romance. The suspicions from others, the talk about how men can't have a platonic relationship with a woman. Advice, nasty comments, weird looks, and self-doubt. Yup, all there.

Second, this is a book that is about life in the Mormon world. Yes, Hollywood is in there for a bit, but it's mostly a contrast for the potluck dinners, Primary meetings, and general gossip of a Mormon ward group. I have no idea if the national audience is interested or ready for this. I am amazed at Shannon's courage in writing this book for them anyway. And for Mormons, too. I've read lots of books for the Mormon market written by Mormons about Mormons (well, I read a few early on, but not so many are good). Those books generally have a feeling of "in jokes." The culture is talked about, but never in a critical way. That is, everything is accepted as good and appropriate and if problems happen, they come from the outside. But the wonder of this book is that Shannon never for one moment gives you a sense that she doubts the truth of her Mormon beliefs, but at the same time, she pokes fun a little at some of the traditions. She questions the all too common one size fits all prescriptions that Mormons tend to live by. She shows Mormons as good-hearted at their best (which is not always) and as very fallible. They are hopeful that God's hand is in everything, and yet when they try to predict how that happens, they are humiliatingly mistaken. It is a marvel of acrobatics, this dance on the high wire. I am in awe.

Thirdly, this is a book that is probably being picked up by a lot of readers of Austenland which was a clear romantic comedy/chick lit kind of book. The Actor and the Housewife plays with the very idea of romantic comedy. The heroine is already married, happily, when the man of her fantasy dreams comes into her life. He is also happily married. So where is the romance? Well, there is romance in it. Only it doesn't end the way that romance readers will want it to. Romance readers, I am afraid, are not going to be happy with that ending. But it is a shame if they are not. Because this is a book of a generation. It is funny and tricky and just plain un-put-downable. But more than that, it is a book that will make you think. It will make you change. That's the kind of book that I aspire to write.

If you want sparkling dialog, it's here. If you want to laugh until it hurts, open this book. If you want to cry, you won't avoid it. If you want the kind of book you grip with white knuckles to find out what happens, here it is. If you want relationships that are real, if you want to be angry and then to forgive, if you want to see how a housewife uses her skills with pie to save the world--

I raise my glass of sparkling cider to you, Shannon. Well done.
(Anonymous) on June 25th, 2009 04:57 pm (UTC)
That's the best review I have read so far.

I really need to read this book. I hope it wins big at the Whitneys next year.
(Anonymous) on June 25th, 2009 05:03 pm (UTC)
And by "best review" what I mean is "best analysis." Thanks. --Emily M.
ext_190300 on June 26th, 2009 03:54 pm (UTC)
Oh yay, I can't wait to read it now, too! I had NO idea that the characters were LDS or I would have bought it sooner. Like you, I kept waiting for someone to write about Mormons for an "outside" audience!
(Anonymous) on June 27th, 2009 04:42 am (UTC)
I felt much the same way when I finished it. And it's hard, because I'm longing to recommend it to people, but I also realize that it's not a book for everyone, which is hard. I can't even lend it to my Mom because she'll find the few whiffs of innuendo offensive. *sigh*

But I agree. The book consumed me as I read it, and it was wonderful to be whirled away in a really really good book again (which reminds me, I need to get my hands on YOUR new book soon...)

-Nerd Goddess
(Anonymous) on June 28th, 2009 02:58 pm (UTC)
Sounds interesting...
(Anonymous) on July 21st, 2009 03:16 pm (UTC)
If I were a better master of words that is the review I would give The Actor and the Housewife. Bravo. I thought it was brilliant and even though you have no idea how the book is going to end or how you want it to end, once you get there you know it's perfect. I love your books too (BTW!) and can't wait to read more. It's nice to be able to find good fiction that's not - on one end -cheesy or on the other end - inappropriate. Thanks!

(Anonymous) on July 22nd, 2009 06:50 am (UTC)
Are you serious? I found the dialog stilted, disjointed and bizarre. I didn't laugh even once or cry. How happy can your marriage be if you are going to bed dreaming of your fantasy man? The relationships seem like unrealistic teen angst and drama, while sometimes trying to throw in some grown-up behavior. There seemed to be a total lack of believable or even definable voice for the characters. I didn't see much depth or development of characters to feel any real sympathy for them or their struggles. The ending was disturbing in that the main character was going to make a choice based on one physical moment, particularly after all her physical and emotional involvement (hugging, cuddling and kissing, but not on the lips)with her "best friend". The relationship Becky and Felix have does not seem like a relationship of best friends, but one filled with sexual tension and "should we/shouldn't we".

Compared to Shannon Hale's YA novels, I was very disappointed, as I was in Austenland and wondered why she didn't have more polish and depth to her characters and settings.
(Anonymous) on August 8th, 2009 11:11 pm (UTC)
Shannon Hale's Actor and Housewife.
I loved this book, too. I am LDS, but I am 26 and single. I don't live in Utah nor have I ever.
This book was where I hid for two days right after my grandmother died. It has everything except the one thing it didn't need: an easy ending.
I have never been where Becky Jack was, in setting or life. But I felt like I knew her, like her friends were people I'd want to be friends with. I love the way she didn't make her leaders less human for their callings. And the way she related to her sister reminds me that I am grateful for mine.
All the stars in the world, Sister Hale. And one great big gold one from me.