Best friends share secrets, shoes, clothes, jewelry and --- in
SMALL ACTS OF SEX AND ELECTRICITY --- a husband. A husband is not
an object to be given away, but that is just what Jane does. "He's
a dubious gift isn't he?" Jane gives her husband Mike to her best
friend Mattie, along with her life and children, and drives away in
a Jaguar that was part of their childhood memories together. Jane,
Mattie and Mike form a love triangle that has eroded Jane's
marriage and driven her to give a daring gift in an attempt to
break the strength of the triangle.
Mattie has been invited by Jane to grandmother Franny's oceanfront
beach house to appraise her estate. Franny's sudden death six
months earlier demands that antiques and "stuff" be appraised and
small acts of sex and electricity exposed. The electricity between
Mattie and Jane's husband Mike has arced repeatedly over the years.
Jane not only wants to settle the estate, she wants to plug Mike
and Mattie together for a summer of heated exploration.
In a provocative opening to a bizarre story of friendship and
self-discovery, Mattie willingly assumes her new role as "Jane" and
climbs into bed with a sleeping Mike before Jane's taillights are
completely invisible. Permission granted, permission taken. No more
small acts of sex, "sleeping with men who reminded me of Mike."
Mattie and Mike seize the opportunity with teenage-like lust to
explore their feelings for each other. The "mythology" that
marriage makes relationships safe is sufficiently refuted. "...if
you'd seen Mike and Jane fifteen years ago...they looked like
people destined for a magazine culture, not wreckage."
The competition between Jane and Mattie for the "whole life" began
when they met at ages eight and nine, living a short stretch of
Miramar Beach from each other every summer. Jane and her sister Nan
spent summers with their chic grandmother Franny after the suicide
of Jane's father. Franny took the girls every summer and taught
them about life, antiques, how to iron and how to wear a scarf, and
told them they'd be "amazing women." Mattie played second fiddle to
her parents' obsession with sailing and alcohol, and Franny became
a surrogate. "When you're here in the summer, I want you to feel
like you're one of my girls," Franny said. The deceased Franny is a
formidable spirit whose lingering scent of Chanel No. 5 remains
firmly fixed in both girls' memories.
Through Mattie's reflective narrative and memories of past events
with Jane and Mike, the reader learns which small acts of sex and
electricity led to Jane's sudden departure and life swap with
Mattie. What part does Mike take in the swap? He's a willing
participant in bed and an outlet for Jane and Mattie's competition.
In fact, the dual electrical fixture on the cover aptly conveys
that Mike is the outlet these two women plug into in a way that has
subtlety eroded the wires of his marriage and forced the woman he
has lusted for since college to see his true character --- a man
who in the end can only offer chaos. "I'm offering you chaos,
Mattie. You can't turn chaos down. I love you."
Behind the closed doors of Franny's estate, Mona and Livvy, Jane's
four-year-old and 14-year-old daughters, accept the fact that Jane
has left them in Mattie's care. Lasting bonds are formed. Mike is a
good father, taking the girls to the beach and to amusement parks,
telling them their mother will be home soon, even though he's
unsure. Lousy husbands can be good fathers at the same time.
Jane's choice to deal with the small acts of sex and electricity
she has observed between Mattie and Mike by giving Mattie the
firsthand experience of living with Mike and acting as his wife
forces Mike ultimately to choose between the two women. "What if
Jane and I split up?" is explored with raw clarity. Mattie has
assumed Jane's life completely. "And I knew if we slept together
again, and he called her name, I'd probably answer." When an
emaciated Jane returns from her own bold explorations, an explosive
confrontation with Mattie reveals "You pulled the same s--- with
Franny. Pushed your way in."
This September Book Sense Pick written by Lise Haines swells with
the sounds of the Pacific Ocean and imagery so vivid and unique
that the reader will be as entranced with the sights and sounds as
with the introspective and complex issues of relationships the
novel addresses. A normal day at the beach with "pelicans diving
into the ocean" is in vivid contrast to "all the rooms of Jane's
psychic house...though I thought I knew where the worms were
buried...I ripped up her lawn and laid the pink bodies of childhood
end to end." The controversial and moral issues are ripe for mature
book club discussion and self-discovery. Ask these questions:
"Would you hungrily explore your feelings with your friend's
husband, or remain within the boundaries of morality and marriage?"
"Are twenty-first century parameters less restrictive?" "Am I bold
enough to explore electricity?"
Amazing and bizarre events take place behind closed doors and in
relationships. With reality shows like ABC's "Wife Swap" being
among the highest-rated series for adults 18-49, it is obvious that
viewers are eager to see what kind of electricity arcs when wives
swap husbands and families. Romantics may want Mike to leave Jane
for Mattie, while moralists would want Mike to honor his marriage
vows. In reality, life is short and sexual electricity is
undeniable. Electricity is a force to be explored with ardor ---
because shared electricity can generate enough heat to light up our
Reviewed by Hillary Wagy on January 23, 2011
Small Acts of Sex and Electricity