I kinda owe Shannon Hale an apology. I read The Actor and the Housewife: A Novel several months ago and then didn’t write a post about it.
That’s actually not why I owe her an apology. I wouldn’t presume to suggest that I should say something about everything even slightly Mormon related that hits the public eye. Rather, it’s that I did post a few comments here and there expressing major discontent with the novel. Those criticism are valid (in brief, they are that she pulls the punches when it comes to the unique Mormon content (I think she could have pushed things about 15-25% more without losing the national audience), she totally martyrs the husband (who is not The Actor, by the way) and doesn’t make him as interesting as he should/could be (and actually shows hints of being), and she totally muddles up the ending.
Or for my more raw reactions, here’s my GoodReads review (I gave the book 2 out of 5 stars):
I knew this going in, but…
So Very Much Not My Thing.
And, sadly, the Mormon elements, which I thought could be interesting, were quite mild and not very interesting.
And a comment I posted on MoJo’s blog:
Just finished this earlier in the evening. Here’s the thing: if you could take some of the angst and down-note ending of this novel and graft it on to Austenland, you’d have a pretty good, interesting, subversive novel. The problem with Austenland is that the heroine in the end gets Darcy and succumbs to his weak sauce pleas (and in a chase to the airport scene). If we’d taken elements to the Felix/Becky ending and used it there instead, then Austenland would have been a devastating take down of Romance Mormon Style or rather that whole thing so many Mormon women seem to have with Jane Austen. Instead, we get the happy ending where the heroine never really has to give up her hope of The Perfect Man. Not really.
On the other hand, as you’ve documented, The Actor and the Housewife is rife with problems (one of the major ones being that the Actor gets all the best lines and the husband gets non-explicit, vaguely asserted sex — if there was ever the time for a bit more explicitness, it’s with this novel where you could balance the Hawt Husband vs. the Witty Brit) and so the ending is just about as weird and anticlimactic as you can get and anticlimactic would have been good if the had been more depth to the characters.
Also: wow is the Mormonism glossed over.
I stand by all that. But as I’ve thought about it lately, I think that I perhaps have been looking beyond the mark. Yes, the novel has major problems. And I still don’t think that from a national market perspective it’s that great of a book. But even with all the deus ex machina and dancing around of things and non-explicitness, from a Mormon perspective, it does have the audacity to deal with opposite gender friendships and takes that idea fairly seriously within a gospel context. Even if I’m not satisfied with the way it’s handled, I have to give Hale credit for tackling the subject. And I do think that the novel is worthy of some critical attention. I’m not claiming that I’ll be the one giving it — in fact, I don’t feel very well-equipped to. But I really shouldn’t have waited so long to point out that, much like Meyer’s Twilight series, Hale’s The Actor and the Housewife very well may say some interesting things about Mormonism and, in particular, about Mormonism in relation to the larger culture. It also may have some interesting things to say about Mormon housewives and celebrity (*cough*HaleandMeyer*cough*).