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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