Thursday, August 5, 2010

Book Review: The Actor and the House Wife

Title: The Actor and the Housewife
Author: Shannon Hale
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: June 2009

Shannon Hale is best known for her beloved young adult fantasy series that began with The Goose Girl (disclaimer: I have not read this, but it is definitely in my TBR pile), a retelling of the Grimm fairy tale of the same name. She has written a total of nine books, only two of which were for adults. This is one of them.

Hale is an extremely versatile writer. She can make you laugh, cry, and wince in sympathy with her characters. Based on her bibliography, she loves a good fairy tale and a good love story. Oddly enough, The Actor and the Housewife is neither -- at first glance. The plot is something out of a movie: frumpy housewife from Utah becomes best friends with A-list Hollywood heartthrob.

This is a modern fairy tale where the improbable occurs and miraculous things happen to ordinary people. True, there are no fairy godmothers who wave wands so that the servant girl can make it to the ball on time to meet fair prince. But there is something magical in a plot where someone ordinary meets someone unattainable. So yes, it is a fairy tale.

It is also a love story, only without the romance. The main characters meet and fall headfirst into platonic love for one another. Becky (the housewife) tried to explain it to Felix (the actor), pointing to the "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday" song Gonzo sings in The Muppet Movie. Specifically, she cites the line "There's not a word yet for old friends who've just met" -- because Becky and Felix's relationship clicks from the very beginning. And like any good love story, they encounter obstacles. They are both happily married, and Becky struggles with how to have a friendship with a man. They are also complete opposites: Becky is a Mormon, Felix is staunchly secular. They confuse and confound one another, and yet they still are drawn to each other.

(Side note: Don't let the religion aspect turn you away. It's quietly there, and definitely not preachy.)

Based on the reviews I've found, this is a book you either love or hate. It should be apparent where I fall into that spectrum. I started reading the book on the train commute home from work and had to force myself to put the book down so I can do such trivial things as shower, sleep, and earn money. I laughed with the characters, cried with the characters, and fell in utter love with the entire book.

A common complaint by reviewers is how secondary Becky's family and Felix's wife are in the book. But aren't they supposed to be? We are all the stars in the movie that is our lives, and everyone around us are the supporting cast. This is first and foremost the story of Becky and Felix (just look at the title!). Hale makes no bones about that, and peppers that point throughout the text, glossing over background events to focus on the progression of the relationship between the two title characters.

The Actor and the Housewife is plotted like a movie, something that Hale did deliberately and masterfully. And like any good movie, it sucks you in and doesn't let go until the very end when the credits start rolling. Don't forget the popcorn.

"It was karma, it was kismet, it was magic. It doesn't matter how it happened, just that it did."

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