Friday, June 12, 2009

The Actor and the Housewife - Review and Giveaway!

Bloomsbury USA was kind enough to send me a review copy of Hale's second book for adults (after Austenland, a fun Jane Austen-infused bit of chick lit), The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale. Hale takes a chick-lit premise (housewife meets her celebrity crush) and turns it on its head. Becky Jack is a happily married mother of three and seven months pregnant when she meets Colin Firth, I mean Felix Callahan. She insults Callahan with such wit that he invites her to dinner. They become fast friends, calling, e-mailing, and visiting when possible, though Callahan is no fan of children and views her Mormonism with amusement. The premise is completely unrealistic, of course, and Hale even points out the unlikelihood of the two meeting (they meet when Becky flies out to Hollywood because she's sold a screenplay with no effort whatsoever and then stars opposite Callahan in the film), but the friendship and Becky's balance between Callahan and her family are the center of the story.

I found this mostly enjoyable and more thought-provoking than chick lit, if overlong (at 352 pages). An omniscient narrator pops in and out with commentary that makes the book seem like a fairy tale and the repartee between Becky and Callahan really sparkles. However, there are issues that other non-Mormons may run into. I found Becky to be naive at times, in contrast to her intelligence and wit, and her relationship with her "perfect" husband sometimes grated. Apparently, Mormon women simply aren't friends with men, so Becky's family and bishop counsel her to drop the friendship, to "avoid the very appearance of evil." Even though her friendship with Callahan enriches her life, Becky is prepared to drop it if her husband objects. I found this to be both frustrating and interesting because my inner feminist yelled, "Are you kidding me?" when Becky considers giving up this part of her life when her husband is jealous, but at the same time, it's a complicated question since marriage is all about compromise and I can see putting family first. But (I know, another 'but') Becky really ranks herself third after her husband's wishes and her children's needs, and I can't relate to that. She gushes and gushes about how perfect and wonderful her husband is, but when he finds the house a mess after work, he scolds her like an errant child, and I gritted my teeth through those parts of the book. At least Becky doesn't submit easily; she responds passive-aggressively to his criticism by asking him to clean up while she finishes her phone call with Callahan. But this doesn't seem like a marriage of equals. I'm not sure if that's typical of LDS marriages, but a little more equal partnership would have been nice. Becky seems smarter, wittier, and more fun than her husband, so his de facto tyranny was especially annoying.

Hale has done an excellent job making a chaste relationship story entertaining and offering a complicated alternative to the usual chick lit formula. This would be a good choice for book clubs, as there are plenty of issues to discuss, and different people are sure to react differently to the relationships in the book. For those mystified by Mormonism, The Actor and the Housewife sheds a bit of light on the community, and groups can discuss the questions presented by the book and how they would have answered them.

Are you intrigued? Tell me about a book you've recently read that you found thought-provoking, and you'll be entered to win my gently read hardcover copy. US and Canada only, please, and enter before Sunday, June 21 at noon.


Donura said...

The most recent thought provoking book that I have read would have to be "Hotel on The Corner of Bitter and Sweet", because of the variety of light that is shed on the issue of racism among several races during the period of World War II in America, or more specifically Seattle, Washington. See my review at my blog,

Thanks for the neutral review of this book on the sensitive issue of religion.

Cindy said...

The most recent thought provoking book that I have read lately is the one that I am reading now, "The Last Lecture". The book makes me wonder, what would you write if it was your last writing, or what would you say if it is your last speech? The book is good because it has lessons in it about the importance of living rather than focusing on death.

Thanks for the honest review and the giveaway.


bridget3420 said...

I'm reading The Link right now and it has really made me think.


bermudaonion said...

Two books that come to mind for me are The Soloist by Steve Lopez - it made me think of how we treat the homeless and the mentally ill in this country and Into the Beautiful North by Luis Urrea - it made me think about attitudes toward immigration. milou2ster(at)

Holly said...

I'm reading Veiled Freedom, about modern-day Afganistan and it's fascinating.

Love the honest review. Thanks for a great giveaway.


MJ said...

recently read Handle With Care. It made me remember how very blessed I am.


Valorie said...

Breathing Out the Ghost was one of the most emotional books I've ever read and I couldn't shake it. Definitely a thought-provoking book. :)


Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Awesome review!

No need to enter me; I'm dropping in to say thanks for the e-mail. I've got this posted at Win a Book for you.

Carlene said...

I read Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas and thought it was a great book, one you thought about for days after finishing. Please include me in your giveaway.

Pam said...

I've read lots of books lately that are thought-provoking.

1) Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson - a true story about Greg, a mountaineer, who builds schools for women in Afghanistan. Incredible story about how 1 man can change the world.

2) The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill - a fictional account of one African woman's abduction from her village in Africa as a young girl to become a slave in the U.S. and her lifelong journey to return to Africa. Even as a young girl, she was feisty, courageous, and determined.

melacan at hotmail dot com

Esme said...

I am just finishing off It happened in Italy-about the Jews in Italy during WW11 and how the Italians did not turn them over to the Nazis. It is interesting considering the Italians were allies with Germany initially. Their approach was quite different from the rest of Europe.

scottsgal said...

I just finished Testimony and found it to be thought provoking - it was amazing how a night of bad decisions affected so many lives and futures. Please count me in for this one

msboatgal at

brightwingbliss said...

A couple of months ago, I read "The Laws of Harmony" by Judith Ryan Hendricks. It made me ponder upon how others can make choices (for good or bad) that affect our lives immensely.

Thanks for the chance to win this interesting book.

brightwing316 (at) gmail (dot) com

Lifestooshort said...

I just read Many Lives, Many Masters by Brian Weiss, very thought provoking

lavery328 at yahoo dot com

Marie said...

Although it's considered light reading by many of my friends I really found Everyone is Beautiful by Katherine Center to be thought provoking for me -- or maybe I'm just easily provoked right now :-) But I did enjoy it a great deal!

PopinFresh said...

The last thought provoking book I read was Worst's horror, but it does ask the question, "If you were desperate for money and had to write another great book, would you plagiarize one that someone sent you? Would you feel more pressure to do so if the author died?"

I thought it was interesting.

Thanks :)

~ Popin

Carol Z said...

I, too, recently finished "Hotel on The Corner of Bitter and Sweet", which was a vivid portrayal of Seattle during WWII. The relationship between the Japanese girl and Chinese boy (even though both were born in the U.S.) made one think about racism for the sake of tradition.

Steph Su said...

Last night I stayed up to finish reading "Ballads of Suburbia" by Stephanie Kuehnert, a YA book that's coming out from MTV Books in July. Don't be put off by its publishing company's name: "Ballads" completely surprised me with its honest, raw, and gritty take on the downsides of suburban life: family neglect, drugs, sex, friendship betrayals, deaths. I know I will be thinking about this book for a long time.

Thanks for the giveaway!

stephxsu at gmail dot com

avisannschild said...

I just finished reading Escape by Carolyn Jessop, which was definitely a thought-provoking read. It's about a woman who escapes with her children from a polygamous community.

Thanks for the giveaway!