FAMILY ACTS by Louise Shaffer


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A pleasant excursion into the heart and soul of theater life involving two women who become the mysterious inheritors of an old opera house.

When Katie and Randa receive letters from a Georgia lawyer informing them they are the beneficiaries in a will, it seems the two have no connection—Katie is a native New Yorker and a scriptwriter for the soap her mother made famous, and Miranda is a business manager for spoiled Hollywood actors. But after a few days together in Georgia, the two find what has always eluded them—family history. Helped by the strange coincidences uniting them (both are named for Shakespearean characters, both were raised by a single parent, an actor), the two women form a tentative bond as they discover they are the new owners of the Venable Opera House, a 100-year-old theater that was once the pride of now-run-down Massonville. They are enchanted by the beautiful building, but plan on selling the money pit to Mike Killian, who’ll soon tear it down to make way for condos. Can Katie and Randa really let that happen? Randa’s 11-year-old daughter Susie is betting not, and has found the theater’s history in hopes that sentimentality will win out over business sense. Half of the novel traces the not altogether happy rise of the Venable clan, a family of actors, drinkers, tough ladies and louts who managed to keep the theater running for nearly a century. Matriarch Juliet acquired the theater under criminal circumstances, her son-in-law Edward kept it going in the Depression by playing the same hammy part his whole life (and keeping his homosexual affairs discreet), while Olivia stole from her children to keep it going in the ’70s. Though essential for solving the mystery of Katie and Randa’s benefactor, the Venable flashbacks are the novel’s weak spot, lacking the color and detail of the periods in which they’re set. Nevertheless, Shaffer (Ladies of Garrison Garden, 2005, etc.) has a nice touch with characters and the feel-good ending doesn’t disappoint.

Southern charm, mystery-lite and the details of theater life converge in Shaffer’s likable third novel (Ladies of Garrison Garden, 2005, etc.).

Pub Date: Aug. 28th, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6063-4
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2007


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