The age-old question of whether a man and a woman “can just be friends” gets a deliciously whimsical twist in Shannon Hale’s second novel. In a follow-up to Austenland, this fantasy what-if story asks: what if he’s Felix Callahan, handsome British actor with a French supermodel wife? What if she’s Becky Jack, happily married Mormon housewife, mother of four, and a fan of Felix’s work? Such title characters usually don’t meet in real life, but when Shannon Hale asks for this suspension of disbelief, she delivers a beautiful, poignant story of love and friendship in return.
The blurb might lead you to believe it will be an escapist housewife meets her celebrity crush storyline. Instead, the fact that Felix and Becky strike up an instant friendship is as believable as the easy dialogue between them is witty. Becky’s character resembles her famous zucchini bread — good and wholesome, but with spunk and fiber — and holds the story together. You don’t begrudge that she was the lucky one who got to meet and become best mates with a celebrity heartthrob instead of yourself because you can see what about Becky captured Felix’s liver (they refer to each other as such since their respective spouses represent their hearts). Rather, you grow to care about Becky and her family as she and husband Mike wrestle with the question of whether a platonic mixed gender friendship is possible.
Indeed the story progresses so seamlessly that you might not even notice the time pass as the Jack children grow up and the Becky-Felix friendship is tested by trials to both partners. There’s a lot of fun and tears along the way, but without revealing the answer to the original question, let me just say the story affirms the reader’s awe in the power of soul mates.
Although Shannon Hale might want to establish herself as excellent author of “fantasy chick lit,” she does so through her talent in writing about grounded characters just authentically living life in The Actor and the Housewife.