||Random House Publishing
||Aug. 28, 2007
Louise Shaffer follows her beloved novels The Three Miss Margarets and The Ladies of Garrison Gardens with an unforgettable tale of poignancy, wit, and high drama.
Katie Harder and Randa Jennings live on opposite coasts, have never met, and have almost nothing in common–except that they’re both named after Shakespearean characters. Everything Katie has ever done or possessed–her New York City co-op, her career as a writer for a daytime drama–was given to her by her late mother, in her day a flamboyant soap opera queen. Randa, on the other hand, has escaped the trappings of a difficult past and forged a life as a single mom, juggling her work as a Hollywood business manager with the needs of her precocious eleven-year-old daughter.
Life takes an unpredictable turn for these two strangers when they jointly inherit the century-old Venable Opera House, a stately but run-down theater in small-town Georgia. Puzzled at this peculiar legacy, Katie and Randa are at first eager to unload their white elephant. But as they spend more time in the old theater, they come to realize that a rich heritage is at stake. A line of strong women–starting with Juliet Venable in the late nineteenth century–has been responsible for keeping the grand old place up and running. In the face of huge obstacles, including a dying theater culture and their own personal struggles, these singular women have gone to drastic measures to keep the opera house in the family–including burying a devastating family secret that could destroy the carefully cultivated Venable legend forever.
Now, as a local contractor seeks to tear down the landmark, Katie and Randa must decide not only if they want to unravel their mysterious connection to the theater and maintain its tradition but if they have what it takes to keep the Venable family legacy alive.
Family acts is a sprawling page-turner about maintaining family honor and lifelong dreams, Family Acts is Louise Shaffer’s most powerful and assured novel to date.
The mic hadn’t been adjusted to her height of 5'3". She reached up on
tiptoe, risking leaving the bustier behind, leaned in, and said to the crowd
in Radio City Music Hall and however many millions of her mother’s fans
watching at home, “Hi. I’m much prettier in person.”
Katie Harder and Randa Jennings have never met. Women in their thirties with successful careers in the entertainment industry and living on separate coasts, they discover that they have co-inherited an odd piece of property—an old rundown theater called the Venable Opera House, located in a small,struggling town in Georgia. Neither woman understands her connection to the theater nor how the two women are
connected to each other. However, with a little digging from Randa’s precocious daughter and some local folks’ southern hospitality, Katie and Randa learn the history of the theater and the stories of the strong, desperate Venable women who lied, cheated, and even killed to keep it in the family. This is a wonderfully written novel, and Shaffer’s love of acting and the theater shines through. Though the story covers over a
century and several generations of Venable women, Shaffer takes great care to develop each woman’s identity and story while capturing the nuances of life in the theater in great detail. Family Acts is a charming and engaging read.
— Carolyn Kubisz
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 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.
Publishers Weekly Review
In Shaffer's delightful third novel, lifelong New Yorker Katharine “Katie” Harder works listlessly as a script writer on the same show that made her deceased mother, Rosalind Harder, a soap opera legend. Miranda “Randa” Jennings is an obsessive Hollywood business manager determined to make childhood better for her 11-year-old daughter, Susie, than her actor father made it for her. When each learns she has inherited a mysterious property, high-strung Miranda and second-guessing Katie both head to sleepy Massonville, Ga., to discover that they are mutual beneficiaries of a falling-apart theater known as the Venable opera house. Despite their skepticism, both become intrigued with the stories the theater holds and wonder if they are in fact related, especially when they hear how the Venable family “always named their children after characters in Shakespeare's plays”—as both women are. Shaffer (The Three Miss Margarets) then rolls back to the beginning of the Venable dynasty, and Randa and Katie struggle with a potential sale to a ruthless developer. While some plot points, including an abrupt, too-tidy ending, are as worn as the opera house floor, Randa and Katie's self-discoveries are sweet, fast-paced and full of heart. (Aug.)
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