Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Actor and the Housewife: A Review

The Actor and the Housewife The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I love Shannon Hale as an author. I own the The Books of Bayern Box Set, Books 1-3 and Princess Academy. I also loved her other novel for grownups, Austenland. Therefore, I really wanted to like this book.

But... I can't.

The theme of this book is the age-old question "Can men and women just be friends," as epitomized in When Harry Met Sally. This book attacks that question from the Mormon perspective (i.e., a married LDS woman, Becky Jack, being friends with a married atheist actor, Felix Callahan, with no gratuitous sex). My main issues with the book are not in the plot. Even though the plot was contrived at times, it was all-around quirky and fun, and all the things I expect from Hale.

What I didn't like about the book:

1. Becky Jack (the protagonist) has NO FAULTS. This is Super Molly Mormon Mom on morality crack. She bakes! She babysits! She cooks 3 casseroles a day, one for her family, one for her elderly neighbor, and one for someone the Spirit will guide her to! She has 4 kids, and loves every single waking moment with them! She loves washing dishes as part of her divine purpose! She initiates love-making with her husband every day, even when 8 months pregnant! And best of all, she is 45, gorgeous, and a size 10!!

(And she talks in exclamation points).

Honestly, its hard to like a protagonist that you can't identify with, and I can't identify with perfection. It just makes me feel inadequate.

2. The morality in this book is SOOOOOOO heavy handed. I don't think I could get through two pages without someone telling Becky she is walking into adultery for having a male friend, and Becky responding with how many personal boundaries she has. It got really tiresome, really quickly.

3. For a mainstream book, the book really delves into the idiosynchrosies of Utah Mormon life a little too much and too often.

4. The ending was unrealistic. (SPOILERS AHEAD) A widowed mother of four is very likely to marry her soul mate and best best friend, even if she isn't "in love with him" the same way she was with her spouse. End of story. Plus, Felix is genuinely in love with her - that much is obvious. You end up feeling like Becky used Felix, and it really hurts.

This book reminds me of one of those daydreams you have where you force it to be moral, because you feel guilty thinking sinful thoughts. Ick. Daydreams with a moral coating are no longer daydreams - they are sermons. All in all, this book would have been much better targeted as a book in Deseret Book (the Mormon bookstore) as Mormon genre fiction.

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Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Besides the fact that it's often shallow and not very well written, this is my primary gripe with Mormon 'literature' - it's almost always a sermon in a story's clothing. Why in the world do Mormons think that anything they publish must have a moral point as subtle as an article in the Ensign?

Madame Curie said...

Why in the world do Mormons think that anything they publish must have a moral point as subtle as an article in the Ensign?

I never have felt like Shannon Hale has been pushy or even overt about her religion. I can't recall it even appearing in her previous author bios. That is exactly what makes this book so weird. It is almost as if, in making Becky Jack (the protagonist) Mormon, Hale was too close to Utah culture to accurately describe it to the world at large without sounding preachy.

In addition, the portrayal of Utah culture was just cringe-worthy, but the book was meant in earnest. As though near-sighted, the author can't see the embarrassing aspects of the culture, because she is immersed in it. Instead, she describes them as "normal behavior" when any non-Mormon would see them as ridiculous.

For example: In the book, Becky's family calls for an intervention because Becky has a male friend (Felix). What are her heinous sins for which she is accused of "essentially adultery"?

1) Talking on the phone with Felix weekly;

2) Taking Felix, along with her husband and children, to the ward potluck; and

3) Dancing with Felix at a ball, when her husband GAVE HER PERMISSION and was in fact dancing with Felix's French wife.

This is bizarre behavior on the part of the family, but it is accepted as completely normal and understandable, and presented as the premise for the dilemma in the novel.

Anonymous said...

I've never read any of Shannon Hale's books, but it's good to hear that they're not all like the one you describe here. Amen to the abnormality of what the book presents as "normal"!