The Actor And The Housewife by Shannon Hale. Bloomsbury USA. 2009. Copy from BEA.
The Plot: Becky Jack is sitting in a Hollywood office, selling her screenplay to a producer. Who would have thunk it! Becky, a Mormon housewife, seven months pregnant, happily married to Mike, three young kids at home, in Hollywood. It's surreal. And gets more odd when Felix Callahan -- yes THAT Felix Callahan, the totally hot A list British actor married to a French model -- walks into her meeting. One comment leads to another and the next thing you know, Becky and Felix are.... friends?!?
The Good: This was one weird ass book. And I mean that in a good way. This book doesn't fit into any one genre; if you go in with certain expectations, chances are, you'll be puzzled, at the least.
What IS this book about? Friendship. Pure, simple, complicated, teasing, flirting, friendship. When can a married woman and a married man who are NOT married to each other be friends? The type of BFFs when just thinking about the other person makes you smile? With shared jokes and banter and giggles?
Wait, you say. That's not friendship! That's romance.
Hale explores just that issue -- when can two people of the opposite sex be friends. What is friendship? And what is romance? What is love? What creates temptation? Should any temptation be avoided? Does that mean locking oneself away? If there is banter and a connection, does that mean there is, or could be, something more? Hale raises some uncomfortable questions and explores some touchy issues, and does so during an eleven (eleven!!) year period in the lives of Becky and Felix
There is more! There is Becky, who is so, well, normal and happy that you almost -- almost -- cannot stand her because she has the perfect family, perfect children, perfect husband, and now perfect best friend in Mr. Famous Felix. Hale weaves in things, puts things together, so Becky isn't perfect, but is likable and normal and very nextdoorish. While Felix is, well -- I'm sure every reader will picture a different famous actor in the Felix role. For the record? Hugh Grant. Also? For some reason, I picture Patricia Arquette as Becky, probably because she is so nextdoorish in Medium and Joe reminds me of Becky's husband, Mike. Except, just for the record, Becky Jack is not a medium and does not solve crimes. This book isn't THAT weird ass.
But this is more than an examination of life, love, and relationships. It's also funny! Laugh out loud, wishing you had said it, wishing you had that friend funny. I giggled my way through the book. Becky and Felix's banter are something out of, well, a Hollywood movie. Here is the dialogue from their first meeting, where they have literally, just met. And remember, Becky is seven months pregnant, and in a real person way, not a Hollywood model way. By coincidence, they are walking into the same restaurant, in that uncomfortable together but not together moment, Becky ahead of Felix.
Becky: Anyway, just so you know, I'm not following you.
Felix: Technically, I'm following you.
Becky: Yeah, I didn't want to mention that. You should do horror movies -- you're kind of creepy.
Felix: I get that a lot. People magazine's Creepiest Man of the Year, Lifetime's Top Ten Hunks Who Give Us The Willies, that sort of thing.
Becky: Where do you keep all the trophies?
Felix: In an abandoned shed in the forest.
Becky: Infested with bats and rusty farm equipment?
Becky and Felix appear to be opposites; but they fall into a patter, a way of looking at the world, that is similar. Each is, well, a good, decent, person. Felix, for example, interrupts Becky's business meeting by accident and realizes she is about to sell her screenplay without an agent. Felix steps in and tells her what terms to negotiate. (Wondering what favorable terms to ask for when selling an option on your screenplay? Page 17.)
One of the (many) areas that Becky and Felix have nothing in common is religion. This is one of those rare books that includes religion (Becky & family are Mormons) just as part of who the people are. Prayer, church attendance, etc. are just woven into the fabric of their lives.
Hale is best know for her fantasy books for teens (as well as Austenland). This, on the other hand, is realistic fiction. Except it's almost a fantasy... c'mon, a regular person who just happens to become best friends with famous actor? And he turns out to be an awesome guy? Yeah, there is a fantastical element here, for anyone who has daydreamed about meeting Mr Perfect. And being there friend. But maybe that's just me. Oh, and Ally Carter and George Clooney.
For those of us interested in covers, I found that the image up at Amazon and the one I had were different. See the photo to the side here? How different it is from the real cover, above? Subtle differences; here, on what I imagine is an earlier draft of the final photo the housewife is way more formal the Becky Jack: hair in an up do and pearls. The real cover has long hair, less formal, and a pie that looks more enticing. Plus, the actor -- here, if you look at it quick, as I did, you don't realize it's the actor but think it may be the housewife's legs. (Just me? Really?) The real cover shows more of the actor than his chin -- we also see his smile -- and that defines the shoulders more, so it's clearer there is a second person.
© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
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