SHE'S OUR PREEMINENT girl crush — a celebrated actress (Mean Girls, The Notebook, Wedding Crashers, Married Life) who could also be a friend. At least that's how it feels, given the smarts and normality Rachel McAdams radiates: no trashy party-girl shots in the tabloids, no attention-seeking hookups — even her breakups reek of class (hey, Ryan Gosling, we're available!). She still lives in Canada, not far from her folks, she tells us, in an "old house that's kind of falling apart, but that's just my taste" — and we can totally see ourselves hanging out with her there.
What we couldn't see was buttonholing Rachel — star of this month's political thriller State of Play, opposite Russell Crowe — for a typical celeb profile, grilling her about inner demons and her new boyfriend, the (dare we say, Gosling-esque?) actor Josh Lucas. Instead, we invited the 30-year-old to roll up her sleeves and have a go with the Marie Claire Book Club. Not only did Rachel say yes — showing up in a comfy blue button-down, skinny jeans, and strappy Ferragamos before settling in with a cup of tea — but she also chose the book: Barbara Kingsolver's earthy, sexy best seller Prodigal Summer.
PHOTO GALLERY: RACHEL MCADAMS BEHIND THE COVER SHOOT
THE PLOT: Set in southern Appalachia, Prodigal Summer is what you might call nature porn — something or someone is mating on nearly every page. Red-tailed hawks do it, chickadees do it, moths do it, and, of course, humans do it. First, there's Deanna, the 47-year-old park ranger who's holed up in a cabin in the woods when not tracking endangered coyotes — until the cocky, much-younger hunter Eddie Bondo upends her solitude. Then there's Lusa, an exotic, widowed city girl trying to keep the randy locals at arm's length. Finally, there's Garnett, the crotchety loner destined to connect with the pesticide-hating hippie chick one farm over. The three stories intertwine like creeping kudzu in this juicy, eco-friendly must-read.
RACHEL (GUEST BOOK-CLUBBER): I absolutely fell in love with this book. I don't think I got out of bed for three days — I was just eating it up. My favorite story line was the one between Deanna and Eddie Bondo. I found that totally hot. It was one of the hottest love stories I've ever read.
LAUREN (ARTICLES EDITOR): Agreed. In that scene when they're right in the middle of some slow sex and Eddie's asking her about her life's story and she's just concentrating on maintaining the conversation, which is totally disconnected from what their bodies are doing? Mercy.
RACHEL: There were so many great conversations in bed, and then cold-morning wake-ups, when he's cooking for her, building the fire ... I kind of fancy living in the woods for two years. Not by myself — but I do have a side of me that would just love to be stuck in the woods and have to stick it out and be really resourceful.
YAEL (ASSOCIATE EDITOR): Deanna wasn't my favorite arc in the book, but I could identify with that relationship where you know it's not going anywhere and you're just very in the moment. And it was hostile. Their relationship was very hostile.
RACHEL: Damn right! Also, when Eddie finally heads off at the end, I liked how Kingsolver leaves it kind of open-ended — will he come back?
LAUREN: I'd like to read that sequel—their hot reunion. I have to admit, I really enjoyed the sex scenes.
RACHEL: Me, too!
SARAH (ASSISTANT EDITOR): My favorite character was Lusa — I could relate to her a lot more. She's this city girl who gets married, moves to the country, and thinks she knows how things work because she's read books about it. And once she's there, she realizes she has no idea. But even though her husband is suddenly killed, she doesn't run away from it. I thought that was really brave.
RACHEL: I was a little confused about Lusa's relationship with her husband. When he was alive, he didn't sound so great. Then after he died, she was speaking so highly of him, and I couldn't tell if she was romanticizing the relationship. It just didn't sound like she was talking about the same guy.
SARAH: Well, I think the longer she stayed in the house where her husband grew up and the more she connected with his family, the more she came to understand him. He still had a presence — in the banister that he had broken as a kid and the lilacs that he'd planted in the garden. It was like she was re-creating a part of his life that she would otherwise never have known.
RACHEL: I always wish I could go back and see the people that I love as children.
YAEL: Well, I hated Lusa. I thought she was so self-righteous, coming to the country and telling everyone how they've all been doing it wrong for years. She says she doesn't want to grow tobacco, which is actually lucrative, but that she wants to grow corn, which you can't live off of.
RACHEL: [laughs] Shame on people who don't want to grow tobacco!
YAEL: Okay, I can understand why she didn't want to grow tobacco, but it was the way she approached the family members, like she knew better than them. She didn't appreciate their culture —
SARAH: But she tried ... she canned things.
LAUREN: That canning was very impressive. Would you know how to jar blackberries?
RACHEL: I wouldn't. I say I'm going to can, I'm going to freeze things, I'm really going to do that, but I never do. But yeah, Lusa was very nearsighted about his family. She made a lot of assumptions about them, which I think we all do with our extended family and in-laws. So I could understand why she was insecure. But I also think there's a commentary there about how hard it is to keep these small farms going. American farms are in a lot of trouble, because there's a generation that either doesn't know how to take care of them or doesn't have any interest. And the land is being sold off in pieces and commercialized. So I appreciated Lusa for sticking it out and finding a way.
YAEL: But would you ever want a farm life? To get up at sunrise with the rooster crowing?
RACHEL: I would try it. I would give it a good shot for a little while. I grew up in a small town, with a small backyard and raspberry bushes. My parents had a garden, but it was very basic. I think one thing that kids who grow up on farms really have going for them is they have exposure to death and birth in a totally different way. I think it takes away a little bit of the mystery and a little bit of the fear, and I do wish I had that. And I wish I was able to grow my own food.
YAEL: Do you garden?
RACHEL: I dabble. My friend has started using beer to keep slugs away. Someone had told her to use pieces of copper, and the little slugs basically paper-cut themselves to death. So that's kind of torture, even for a slug, right? So she put out beer because she read about it somewhere.
[Editor's note: It turns out slugs aren't cut to death but shocked by copper rings. Still, unpleasant.]
LAUREN: Drunk slugs! That's nicer. But going back to the book, my issue with it was that sometimes I felt like I was getting a biology lesson. There were moments where I felt a little bit like, Okay, I get it. We're destroying the earth, and everything is going extinct.
RACHEL: Yeah, she did kind of go on a rant. But I was amazed at how much more I learned about things like the hierarchy of predator versus prey.
LAUREN: That idea that if you remove one predator from the ecosystem, it messes the whole thing up.
RACHEL: And it always went back to humans. I loved the way Kingsolver linked the interconnectedness of nature with the interconnectedness of human relationships. When she writes in the beginning that "solitude is only a human presumption," I thought that was so true. I mean, we all think we're the center of the universe, but we don't exist alone. It's that ripple idea that you cannot touch one thing without affecting another.
YAEL: My problem with the book is that some of this nature stuff got a little heavy-handed. Like when Lusa was saying that all the men wanted to sleep with her because she's ovulating. Kingsolver writes: "No wonder the men were fluttering around her like moths: She was fertile." Really? As if the men wouldn't want to sleep with a gorgeous, exotic, redheaded city girl any time of the month?
RACHEL: I liked it, and I hated it. You know when you just walk into a room, and some days you're on and some days you're not? To think it all boils down to hormones and pheromones is a little disconcerting. At the same time, it's kind of interesting that we're still that primitive. It's still fairly basic nature. You're drawn to who you're drawn to.
SHOULD YOU READ IT?
» To read our full conversation, get more book reviews, and to add your thoughts, visit Marie Claire's Book Club.