Thursday, June 26, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Review of "The Actor and the Housewife" by Shannon Hale

**Originally Posted on cj's bookshelf on August 21, 2011**

Title: The Actor and the Housewife
Author: Shannon Hale
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: June 9, 2009

Synopsis (from Goodreads) -
What if you were to meet the number-one person on your laminated list—you know, that list you joke about with your significant other about which five celebrities you’d be allowed to run off with if ever given the chance? And of course since it’ll never happen it doesn’t matter…

Mormon housewife Becky Jack is seven months pregnant with her fourth child when she meets celebrity hearththrob Felix Callahan. Twelve hours, one elevator ride, and one alcohol-free dinner later, something has happened…though nothing has happened. It isn’t sexual. It isn’t even quite love. But a month later Felix shows up in Salt Lake City to visit and before they know what’s hit them, Felix and Becky are best friends. Really. Becky’s husband is pretty cool about it. H er children roll their eyes. Her neighbors gossip endlessly. But Felix and Becky have something special…something unusual, something completely impossible to sustain. Or is it? A magical story, The Actor and the Housewife explores what could happen when your not-so-secret celebrity crush walks right into real life and changes everything.

My Review:
It's Saturday night, I'm home with my parents and siblings. We're all cooking pork ribs in preparation for Sunday's potluck after church. Dad's specialty for these church parties is barbecue pork - browned to perfection, drenched in KC Masterpiece BBQ sauce and baked overnight in his campfire-precision Dutch ovens. Put those on a plate with a hearty side of roast potatoes and a green salad - and you have the gloriousness of a post-Sunday meetings feast (as long as nobody forgets the chocolate cake).

The phone rings and Dad checks the caller ID. He smiles at me and says "It's for you."

Let me backup. I'd been dating this guy - I'm gonna call him Spongebob for reasons that will become clear later - for about a month. In my dating-starved social life, that was an eternity. And I will be the first to admit that I really liked the guy. As in, I liked the guy. As in, I was ready for a serious relationship. Sure, it had only been three actual dates, but we'd talked on the phone, we'd texted and we'd chatted online. We'd met when a young couple from our church set us up on a blind date and (I thought) we had hit it off. He'd asked me out on two more dates and I was ecstatic about the whole thing. Spongebob was a wonderful guy - he had a great job, he treated me well and he seemed to like me a lot. So, I was thrilled when he'd called me.

In order to have some privacy, I took the cordless phone and walked to the bottom of the stairs away from the kitchen and the family (who were certainly whispering excitedly amongst themselves). I said hello and Spongebob said hello back. We talked for a minute - and then he dropped in this little nugget:

"Well, you know I like you" (heart skips a beat) "and I think you're a nice girl" (okay… where is this going?) "but I think we'd be better off as friends."


I'm really not sure what happened at this point… I think I tried to be polite, even though it might be just as likely that I swore at the bugger. I hung up the phone and sat on the stairs for another minute, trying to remember where I left my legs because I certainly couldn't feel them attached to my body. I must have found them again because the next thing I remember was coming face-to-face with my family, who were all eagerly anticipating my next news - surely I would be going out with him again. I started to cry and my mom took me in her arms and hugged me tight.

The story doesn't end there. The next day at church, I had to face the people who had set me and Spongebob up. I didn't want to be rude or anything, but I certainly didn't want to recount the phone call. When the couple asked me how things we going with Spongebob, I said "fine," but then my dear, sweet 7-year-old cousin piped up and said "I thought he broke up with you!"

Turns out that was the best thing that could have happened there because the couple said something to the effect of "Oh, he does this to every girl we set him up with!"

Number one - I wasn't the only one these two had set Spongebob up with? Number two - What do you mean every girl? Turns out that Spongebob breaks it off with every girl he's had three dates with. Evidently, he takes seriously the old adage in the movie "Hitch" - "Three dates … will tell [you] everything [you] need to know about the relationship." And evidently, if he doesn't feel "it" in three dates, then it's adios - friend.

I tell this humiliating tale to get a glimpse at how I came to the book The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale. The premise of this story is that Becky, an average housewife from Utah, meets Felix, a sophisticated, flashy, famous actor from Hollywood, and they become best friends in every sense of the word. At first, it's a little weird because Felix is one of those "heartthrob" actors that women are supposed to go ape-nuts for (which, who the crap even knows what a "heartthrob" really is) and people think that Becky - who is a happily married mother of four - is about to run off with Felix. But that never happens. Becky and Felix are able to have a mature and fun (and funny - oh my gosh, these two are HILARIOUS!) friendship while still being committed and faithful to their spouses.

Personally, I think that it's possible for men and women to have platonic friendships - and not any of this bogus "Oh, we dated once, but I got bored of you so I'm going to cast you off and call it being a friend" BS. Yes, I know this is a work of fiction (how many people in this lifetime meet their celebrity crushes and become friends with them in real life? Some people might, but not very many), but this is a truly refreshing story in the vein of a romantic comedy.

I actually listened to the audiobook and I have to give major props to Christina Moore for her reading. Sometimes when a female does voices for male characters, it just sounds like a woman doing a man's deep voice (and not very well). But I love Moore's Felix voice and I love her voice for Mike (Becky's husband) and the other male characters. It actually sounds like a man's voice - if that doesn't sound too terribly weird. Also, her French accented Celeste (Felix's wife) isn't too shabby either (dear heaven, I love Celeste!)

Anyway - The Actor and the Housewife is more than a fluffy comedic read. There are a lot of lovely little moments between Becky and Mike in that you never for a second believe that Becky would leave Mike for Felix. You even get angry when Becky's friends and family (and the media, at one point) suggest otherwise. Because, you know, men and women are completely and utterly incapable of self-control and never, ever, EVER know when they're about to cross a line and simply cannot wait to jump into bed with one another because - seriously - what else is there to do with a member of the opposite sex? They certainly wouldn't have entertaining and enjoyable conversation and share life's ups and downs with this wonderful friend. No, no, no - life is all about getting into someone else's pants.

This book actually justifies that sarcastic rant and how stupid people's assumptions about male-female friendships are (both in and out of the story). More than that - it's about sharing life's joys and heartbreaks with that one true bosom buddy that you can turn to (and boy howdy, are there plenty of joys and heartbreaks in Becky's and Felix's lives. I almost didn't want to get out of the car at a few points because I was just so emotionally invested in the story).

I love this book because it represents so many things that I want in my life - I would totally love a friend like Felix. Not necessarily a drop-dead gorgeous Hollywood actor, but someone to bounce humorous ideas and thoughts off of - someone who understands all of my life's peaks and valleys and who would trust me with their own ups and downs. The best metaphor actually comes from the story - Becky says that Mike has her heart and soul and she is totally in love with him and he's totally in love with her. But Felix is her liver. She still needs her liver and it's required for life, but he's not her heart (Felix responds to this by having liver-shaped gold pendants made for both of them. It is blankety-blanking adorable).

I realize that this story is very much steeped in a fantasy - and Becky even admits in-story that there are way too many coincidences in this situation and there's no way this could have happened just on a whim. But the lightness and joy of the story makes you suspend disbelief long enough to love and appreciate what Shannon Hale was aiming for with this book. So, if you want a book that will make you laugh and make you cry and make you find joy in your family and friend relationships, I would wholeheartedly recommend The Actor and the Housewife!

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