"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." — Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale

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Summary: A Mormon stay-at-home mom strikes up an unlikely friendship with a Hollywood heartthrob.

Don’t be fooled by the title. This is not a light chick-lit read. It’s an intense story of intimate friendship and marriage in the style of Kristin Hannah with religious overtones.

Within 10 seconds of meeting movie hunk Felix Callahan, pregnant Mormon housewife Becky Jack makes an obscure Biblical reference that leaves everybody awkward and uncomfortable. Then she insults him and he calls her fat. Despite that unusual opening, the two become friends.

The friendship between Becky and Felix surprises everybody, including themselves. Like many friendships, it goes through times where they talk on the phone multiple times a day and times when they grow distracted by the stresses of daily life. It's usually light and fluffy, providing comic relief for both. Felix carefully avoids anything intimate.
“The conversation had turned a little chilly, and Becky backed away from the pit of unsaid things. This was not the fodder of their friendship, and Becky was feeling waterlogged with the awkwardness drowning the room.” 
Together, Felix and Becky have weak insults, inside jokes, totally separate lives and two spouses who don’t understand their friendship but do tolerate it.

Their close friendship does cause a few marital problems on Becky’s side. Becky is all set to visit Felix alone in LA for a fun weekend when Mike says that he’s having a hard time. Becky doesn’t go on her trip and drops Felix immediately. She moves on with her life, and never mentions Felix again, but feels lonely and virtuous. There was never any doubt that Mike and her four kids and her tame Mormon life are everything she needs, yet…

Then Felix’s wife Celeste calls Mike to ask permission for Becky to be Felix’s friend again. This part of the book is fascinating. Can men and women really be friends? If it bothers one spouse but not the other? Is jealousy a sign of love? What if they are really attractive? Is the appearance of impropriety enough to assume infidelity? Can you be friends with your movie star crush? All I know is that I would have a hard time sitting next to Daniel Craig if he was in my kitchen. I’d just be waiting for him to kiss me or for me to spill grape juice on him in my nervousness.

Mike recognizes that Becky's friendship with Felix is special but can’t understand why. Becky explains:
“But with Felix- it’s different from talking with my other friends. It’s a little gift for me to laugh with him – or at him more often than not. It’s fun but it also feels … important somehow. Like I’m exercising a part of my brain that’s been neglected. And I feel a little more excited to live the day.”
This was a good book, but not what I expected from the title.

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