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An Actual Life

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  274 ratings  ·  41 reviews
In this delightful novel, Abigail Thomas takes readers back to the summer of 1960 and into the heart of a young woman embarking on a marriage not exactly made in heaven.
Paperback, 240 pages
Published November 4th 1997 by Touchstone (first published 1996)
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3.62  · 
Rating details
 ·  274 ratings  ·  41 reviews

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Feb 28, 2011 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 22, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: unfinished
I read the first 46 pages. Thomas writes terrific memoirs-in-essays, so I was intrigued to try her fiction. Nineteen-year-old Virginia got pregnant the first time she slept with Buddy, and now she’s married to him and a stay-at-home mother to Madeline. Buddy gets to go out to attend summer school and paint houses for some extra cash, and he also seems to see plenty of his high school girlfriend, Irene, who’s now married to Chick.

This reads like a cheap knockoff of Anne Tyler, and the shortage of
Gwen Owen
Jul 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Loved every page of this book except the final one. I can forgive an ending that is a little too convenient and predictable though, because the writing was so lovely throughout.
Amanda Bynum
Jan 02, 2010 rated it did not like it
I think that Abigail Thomas had just finished Where The Heart Is and Diary of a Mad Housewife when she started writing An Actual Life. It just didn't have that spark of originality, that newness that makes me think "wow, I've never read anything like this before." An Actual Life tells the story of Virginia, a young married woman completely unprepared for marriage and motherhood. Her husband is still in love with his high school girlfriend and her parents are soulless and uncaring. So no, not a f ...more
Apr 02, 2015 rated it liked it
I liked that this book continued characters from several of her short stories in Getting Over Tom. Since those were some of my favorite stories, I liked getting to know more of their story. It's a sad story and doesn't go the way you might hope, but it's very real and honest in ways that make you feel like someone is finally capturing something you've always believed you were the only one to think that way.
Dec 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
I just loved this little book!! Such a quirky mix of characters and testament to what the heart wants.
Dec 31, 2016 rated it liked it
The story was interesting but the ending was predictable. It's a fast read although sometimes you want to smack on of the characters for being stupid.
Phyllis Clem
Feb 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book was a surprise - beginning to end. I don't know what I expected but it was a sad and hopeful story. I felt for the characters and I thought the writing was good.
Mar 31, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: 60's historians, social critics, and our mothers
After reading Abigail Thomas' moving memoir "A Three Dog Life", I was curious to read her fictionalized semi-autobiographical "An Actual Life." In the early 60's, Virginia, a minister's daughter from the Northeast, is plunged into a shotgun marriage and early motherhood (and expelled from her college) due to an unplanned pregnancy. She is struggling to maintain her identity and this leads to marital strife as she yearns to regain the approval of cold and distant parents and to maintain the famil ...more
An Actual Life is about a nineteen year old girl in the 6os, Virginia, who had gotten pregnant byt her boyfriend, Buddy. She was kicked out of school and her parents arranged for her to get married Buddy. The story is set to the summer after their baby girl was born. The couple moved in with Buddy's favorite aunt, Dot. Virginia and Buddy have problems with their marrige due to the fact that Buddy still loves his ex girlfriend. This book may not sound as good as described but they narrator has a ...more
Jun 05, 2007 rated it it was ok
This book was a quick read. I read it in 3 days and I'm a slow reader!

It was sort of dissappointing and predictable, but I did like the writer's language usage to describe things and feelings. The main character annoyed me a little though. It could be that I didn't like the book as much because I didnt' like the main character much!
Mar 13, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I hadn't read a novel in a while, so I took my Mom's recommendation to get into this one. It's light and a quick read, but it had some of those great moments where an author says something you've always known, but didn't know that you knew until you read it. It also made me laugh a lot in recognition.
Apr 28, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very well written, but oh, how very heart-rending. I know that in the 60's this story was probably not a rare occurrence, and I spent the entire book hoping for things to get better between Virginia and Buddy. The ambiguous ending threw me a little, but I choose to hold on to the hope that Virginia eventually obtained her actual life.
Natalie Seaton
Aug 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book. The way the author captured every character's personality and quirks was amazing.
I also enjoyed the way the book was written, in a way that made you feel like you were right there with Virginia.
There were many times that I wanted to smack her husband for being so horribly rude.
Virginia is very likable and friendly.
: ) Easy summer read!
Sep 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jane by: Anne Lamott
I read this book because I really liked "A Three Dog Life." and I've read essays by Abigail Thomas as well. I think she got into the mind of this young wife and mother. Not exactly a pleasant place to be, but I felt I was there. The characters were complicated. And the ending felt utterly true to the story. Not sure how to rate these books. I feel as though I "really like" everything.
Mar 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a story of a young mother who completely hates her husband. I was completely caught up in the hatred with her and considered her someone who's next in line to speak to Dr. Laura. But her narration is funny! She's just soooo irriatated! Is she crazy? Is she creating the scandal in her life? It was hard to root for her, but I think you'd like this read.
Apr 12, 2016 rated it it was ok
I didn't like this book much. It was like half a book, or a third. You don't know why Virginia is the way she is. I wanted to know more about her, her family, her mom (bi-polar?), if she's gorgeous, not very smart, what? I think if it had had multiple points of view it could have been a much richer novel.
The Twins
Jan 01, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lucky-dip
I felt so sorry for Virginia throughout the book - this should be a wonderful time for her and not overshadowed by an ex-girlfriend and old memories. I like the innocence in her and her quirkieness. Short book, easy to read.
Annie Fox
Jul 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is my idea of an ideal Summer book!
It is perfectly charming... like a breeze through your mind... I felt sad to see it end. Most of all, I felt like I was cheating on it when I finished it and started a new book!
Sep 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: southernfiction
This is the sympathetic but non-sentimental story of Virginia and Bobby, who got married when Virginia discovered she was pregnant. Sad but realistic, this is a good introduction to the underrated Abigail Thomas.
Angela Jones
Jul 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
Simple read. Not much depth. I had read one other book by this author and had high hopes for this book. The leading character was not very strong and the story was not very well developed. Disappointed!
Dec 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
I could not put this book down! It is wonderfully written, and I could relate so much to the story. Slightly disappointed in the ending, as I was hoping for some closure....but it left me thinking :)
"And the thing is, once you know you are irritating a person everything you say comes out irritating. So finally I said, 'Are you going to eat that or can I?' because if they're going to hate you they're going to hate you and you might as well eat their ice cream."
Apr 06, 2013 rated it liked it
A darker version of Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones. Mr and Mrs BJJ gives you the cleaned up, life is a bowl of cherries version of 1960's teen pregnancy. Virginia tells it like it is ( but still can't resist the storybook ending)!
Aug 03, 2011 rated it liked it
Funny book, a little light. Her later work is much deeper.
Jul 28, 2012 rated it did not like it
Gave up after the first dozen pages. Back to her memoirs, which are amazing.
Oct 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
I like how AT creates an otherness to simple home life. Her characters feel so real to me.
Feb 07, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
Jul 10, 2012 rated it liked it
Quirky characters that draw you in. Quick light novel that left me wanting more.
Aug 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
I liked this book, it was a short read. The ending wasn't the best, but I liked the main character and how she was trying to figure out how she ended up with her life.
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