The Actor and the Housewife, by Shannon Hale

The Actor and the Housewife book coverThe Actor and the Housewife
by Shannon Hale
Pub Date: June 9, 2009

I read a galley of this book shortly after it was published a few years back, and moved to Provo for a few months after, where I worked as bookseller at the now defunct Borders Books store in the Riverwoods shopping complex. Shannon Hale is a super popular children’s author, best known for her Princess Academy series, and a fellow Mormon! (And she is fabulous to follow on Twitter.) So I was surprised that The Actor and the Housewife, the second adult title written by Hale after Austenland, was not flying off the shelves in Happy Valley. And recently the author said on Twitter that the book was quietly going out of print. (It’s still available digitally, in some libraries, and for low prices online, so it’s not a rare book yet!) The first time I read it, I devoured the book. I had not read a book by a major publisher that featured Mormonism so prominently and so positively before, and I sang praises for this book for ages afterwards simply because in my sphere it was such a welcome addition. My thoughts on the book have evolved upon reading it again, but I still find it overly a charming story with the added plus of being centered on Mormon life.

The book is about a Mormon housewife, Becky Jack, who stumbles into a friendship with a heartthrob actor Felix Callahan. The way I remember it from the first time I read it was it’s like Hale wrote herself into a fan fiction (without being a total Mary Sue) about being friends with Colin Firth. (The contemporary and personal equivalent for me would be Aaron Paul*, and you can pretty easily project your own fantasy male lead in the story as you read.) The book follows Becky and Felix for a number of years as they face life’s challenges and wonder how on earth they became friends and are so drawn to each other. Becky is very much in love with her husband Mike, and Felix is married to a French supermodel, but of course some conflict enters the friendship because it is so unusual. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this the first time, since it was a Mormon experience novel that tied in aspects of LDS life without belittling it, without apologizing for it. Becky just IS. And at the time I really appreciated that.

Reading this novel again years later, I do cringe a little at the initial “meet cute” of Becky and Felix. It’s a little over the top. But then the thought occurred to me that Hale kind of wrote The Actor and the Housewife in the style of a YA novel, but definitely aimed at adults. It’s an odd angle, but that helped me to read it with a little less cynicism. From other reviews I’ve read, this type of story did not grab a lot of people (which is probably why it’s going out of print), but if you’re an LDS stay-at-home mom especially, or grew up entrenched in Mormon culture, you might find some delicious overlap in Becky’s story, and some fantasy fulfillment as well. It’s a well-constructed fan fiction, and should be enjoyed as that.

The story is separated into three acts, and I think what I most remember about the book is the third act. It’s heart-wrenching and heartwarming, and all the pieces of the story puzzle start to fall into place in a satisfying way. The last third of the book is what has stood out to me the most about the book, and it makes getting through the more treacly parts of the book absolutely worth it. And if you’re active LDS, I can pretty much guarantee you will sob and it will be a lovely sob. I’ll just warn you now.

The book could bring up some good discussion following Becky’s train of thought, the whole “what if?” aspect of the story. What if you suddenly became friends with your “freebie” celebrity crush? Do you agree with Becky’s choices? How would your family and church friends react to this friendship? Is Becky and her social circle people you know? How would you handle similar circumstances in your marriage and with your friends? Do you find people are draw into your life almost inexplicably, and later on down the line you realize why you needed each other?

So while I’ll agree with the assessment that the book isn’t for everyone, it’s by a well-loved author and features LDS characters in a way that doesn’t make them the villain. It’s fun and light and silly, and still give a good punch in the end.

 

*I have legit had fantasies about meeting Aaron Paul and his wife Lauren, since he’s done filming in Atlanta a few times over the last few years. Mostly it involves going out for pizza or me making them pizza, and we have a silly moment of dancing to Florence + the Machine. Pretty tame fantasy, I know.

As You Wish, by Cary Elwes

As You Wish The Princess BrideAs You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride
by Cary Elwes
Pub Date: October 14, 2014

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that The Princess Bride is a favorite movie of American Mormons. Walk through any Cultural Hall and start saying, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya…” and those around you will finish the famous phrase. I very literally jumped at the chance to read a galley of this before it was published last year.

Cary Elwes, known to LDS women across this great nation as My Sweet Westley, pens a charming and loving memoir of the film that first gave him fame. This is the kind of book any well-loved movie should have for its fans. Not only do you get all the behind-the-scenes stories from Elwes and other cast and crew from the film, but you can absolutely tell everyone had a grand time making the film, too. And you get to follow Elwes throughout the production process learning how to fence and stage fight for the Greatest Swordfight in Modern Times, and that in itself is a real treat.

All the primary cast members contribute to the book as well, with asides inserted throughout the book, so you get to hear what Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, Robin Wright, Chris Sarandon, and all the others thought about their cast mate Cary and the production in general. You’ll learn how and why actors were cast, the author William Goldman’s input to the production, injuries that were inflicted, and how nerve-wracking the Fire Swamp scenes were to film. Lots of great anecdotes to keep you in stitches!

I also loved all the reminisces about Andre the Giant, the beloved Fezzik of the movie. Andre was a man of imposing stature but as cuddly as a teddy bear, and there doesn’t seem to be a bad word about him. He was quite a hard worker, despite his body not always cooperating with him, and not being as fluent with the English language had the director Rob Reiner record all his lines on tape so he could learn the lines phonetically. Stories about the late Andre are speckled throughout, like a playful spirit. So very endearing.

Really the whole book is one big squee-worthy, fangirly read, and you’ll want to watch the movie as you read about the behind-the-scenes trivia, and you’ll want to watch it again after you finish the book because you’ll have such warm and fuzzy feelings about the movie. You’ll bug all your friends with interjections of, “Hey, did you know that..” while you watch, too. Highly recommended!