Mating for Life: A Novel by Marissa StapleyMating for Life: A Novel by Marissa Stapley

Mating for Life: A Novel

byMarissa Stapley

Paperback | June 7, 2016

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Maine meets Girls in White Dresses in this Globe and Mail bestseller about three very different sisters, their feminist mother, and what it takes to love someone—whether it be family, friends, or spouses—for life.

Former folk singer Helen Sear was a feminist wild child, raising three daughters, Liane, Ilsa and Fiona (each by different fathers) largely on her own. Now in her sixties, Helen has fallen in love with a traditional man who desperately wants to marry her—and while she’s fearful of losing him, she’s equally afraid she’ll betray everything she’s ever stood for if she goes through with it.

Her youngest daughter, Liane, is in the heady early days of a relationship with the love of her life. But he has an ex-wife and two daughters—and her new role as “step-something” doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Ilsa, an artist, is fervently hoping her second marriage will stick. Yet her world feels like it is slowly shrinking, and she realizes she may need to break free again, even if it means disrupting the lives of her two young children. And then there’s Fiona, the eldest sister, who discovers her husband has been harboring a huge secret, which makes her own past harder to ignore. To regain stability, she must face some hard truths, and alter her impossibly high expectations.

Through these alternating perspectives, and with pitch-perfect honesty and heartwarming humor, Stapley explores sex, marriage, and how the many roles that women play are often at odds with each other. Ultimately a celebration of the redemptive power of love in all its forms, Mating for Life is a stunning, memorable debut.
Title:Mating for Life: A NovelFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:352 pages, 8.25 X 5.31 X 0.9 inShipping dimensions:352 pages, 8.25 X 5.31 X 0.9 inPublished:June 7, 2016Publisher:Washington Square PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1501139797

ISBN - 13:9781501139796

Appropriate for ages: All ages

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Read from the Book

Mating for Life 1 Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) Unlike other turtles, the common snapping turtle cannot hide in its shell because its body is too big. These turtles snap as a defense mechanism, but aren’t actually vicious. However, perhaps because of the misconception of aggression, snapping turtles are often targeted, and are endangered in North America. When mating, snapping turtles sometimes engage in an elaborate dancelike ritual in the water that involves eye contact but no touching. Snapping turtles have no defined mating season: they court and mate only when conditions are exactly right. When Liane swam into the snapping turtle, she screamed. He didn’t bite her, but clearly he wanted to. Then he was gone, dipping first his head and then his shell underwater. (She didn’t know he was a he, but she assumed; there was something placidly male in his glare.) She sensed the turtle was still there, somewhere below. She turned to float on her back, hearing her mother’s voice in her memory as she did. “If you ever feel scared, don’t panic. You’ll drown,” Helen had instructed from the edge of the floating dock while Liane paddled below. Liane’s eldest sister, Fiona, had already been front-crawling to the middle of the lake, where Helen had placed a DIVER DOWN sign. Ilsa had been lying on the floating dock, too, but then she rolled off and swam, dolphinlike, toward Liane, grabbing her sister’s ankle from beneath the waves. Liane had shouted and flailed. “Exactly! Thank you, Ilsa. That’s a perfect example of what you don’t do. Back float instead.” Liane remembered her ­mother’s red suit, brown skin, blond hair, and the way she talked to them as though they were already grown-ups. The swimming lessons were the one thing Helen insisted on during summers that spiraled out slowly, like the pucks of Bubble Tape gum they would buy at the marina for $1.25. The girls didn’t even have to unpack their bags if they didn’t want to. They were never asked to make their beds. Now Liane looked up at the clouds and tried to fill her belly with air. But her breath was too shallow and she had to kick. Panic soon forced her to flip to her front and start to swim, fast, for the floating dock. She wanted to go home, and it had only been one day. Her plan: to swim and eat salads (mostly because she hated to cook, or couldn’t cook; it was a chicken/egg situation she didn’t care to analyze) and work on the final pages of her thesis. By the end of the week, when Liane’s mother and sisters arrived for their annual early summer cottage weekend, she would have finished it. Then Adam would stop asking her when she was going to finish it and she would stop feeling guilty for not responding in a more appropriately proactive way to his father’s offer of a job on the faculty at the university, as a teaching assistant, pending her thesis defense. The other part of her plan, and one she hadn’t told anyone about, involved the hope that by coming here alone, by treating this as a regular cottage and normal lake—and not the site of one of her life’s greatest tragedies—she could erase the past and turn herself into a normal person. The kind of person Adam wanted her to be. The kind of person she didn’t think she could be but knew she should at least try to be. Liane ducked her head underwater—eyes closed, testing herself—and resurfaced with a gasp. In addition to the big fears, her week-alone-at-the-cottage plan hadn’t accounted for her many small fears. (Turtles. Seaweed. Algae. Other things too embarrassing to mention. Like ants. Beetles. Walking into cobwebs.) All of these things seemed more frightening without company. (Currently: she could still sense the turtle near, perhaps now waiting at the base of the ladder to bite one of her toes.) She went down again, and this time kept her eyes open. Then she surfaced, blinked the water from her eyes, and saw movement to her left. The turn of a page. There was a man sitting at the end of the dock at the cottage next door—it had been the Castersen place, but the Castersens had sold it, or were renting it out, or something. Liane couldn’t remember but knew Helen had explained it last year when the new dock had appeared and, next, a pair of kayaks had replaced the motorized pontoon boat Mr. Castersen had once called his “Party Boat.” The unfamiliar man sitting on the dock reading looked up and Liane looked down, focusing again on her path through the water. But she should have waved. She was in cottage country. In cottage country, you were supposed to wave (even if you were swimming) and mouth, Hello, to people (regardless of whether you knew them). But she was too embarrassed. He had probably heard her screaming about the turtle. He had probably seen the awkward way she’d jumped off the dock, plugging her nose and splaying her legs. And either way, it was now too late because the man—who had copper-blond hair and a matching shadow of a beard—was reading his book again. She kept swimming and looked away from him, but looking away meant she had to look at the shed, so she closed her eyes and ducked under again. “Why do you keep it?” she had asked Helen, years before, referring to the kayak that hulked in the shed just up from the water. “What am I going to do with it, throw it away?” Helen had asked. “I couldn’t live with the idea of it in a garbage dump somewhere until the end of time. And it seems wrong to sell it. So we’ll keep it. Maybe one day you’ll take it out.” “Never,” said Liane. What a macabre idea. Horrible. Sometimes she wondered if Helen meant to be so insensitive. She tried to love her mother as she was, did love her as she was, but she also wished Helen was more like other mothers. Other mothers would never have left that particular kayak in the shed or suggested Liane go out on the lake in it, for example. Liane climbed the ladder of the floating dock, wincing and curling her toes against the algae on the steps. Then she sat, hugging her knees to her chest and wishing for a towel. She squinted. The spine of the man’s book was orange. A paperback. His head was bent and his shoulders were hunched and he was leaning forward a little. As though he wants to actually get onto the page, or into it. As though he isn’t just reading it but inhabiting it. Or maybe he was just nearsighted. Still, Liane found herself thinking about a book she had read as a child, about a boy (or was it a girl?) who found a tree with a door in the trunk and when he (she?) opened it, there was another world that had always been there. Liane still asked Helen about it. “Maybe you imagined it,” Helen said once. “You were very creative.” But Liane still believed this book existed somewhere. She was certain her father had given it to her and had written an inscription on the inside cover she could no longer remember the words of but longed to read again. She straightened her legs, shimmied forward, and slid into the water. The new dock, the one at the Castersens’/Possibly Someone Else’s Place Now, was closer than the other Castersen dock had been, and bigger. Its blond wood planks stretched out, around, and out again. Closer now. A few more strokes and she would have a clear view. At the perfect moment, the man leaned back to stretch, tilting the book. She saw white, yellow, black writing. Junkie by William Burroughs. Disappointing. And slightly alarming. Liane gulped air and dove, thinking about how Burroughs had shot his wife in the head. Accidentally. Who could possibly shoot someone in the head accidentally? A dozen worst-case scenarios surfaced. She was alone on an island with a man who appeared to want to inhabit a book written about rampant drug use by an “accidental” wife murderer. Except, Liane reminded herself, they weren’t actually alone on the island. It just felt like it because it was still late June and the lake was fairly quiet. The island had plenty of other cottages, most of them tucked behind trees above the granite. When the long weekend came, it would signal the true beginning of summer and the place would feel less isolated. The sound of motorized boats would cause Helen to shake her head and cluck like an irritated hen. She would start talking again about sending around a petition, but she wouldn’t. Helen could now identify a lost cause when she saw one. Liane had reached the ladder of the main dock. She put a foot on the first slimy ledge and pulled up, then took her towel from the closest Muskoka chair, stepped off the dock, and headed for the cottage without looking back at the man. When she was in the shade, she stood on the steps made of stones that had apparently been dragged out of the lake years before by Helen’s father. This grandfather Liane had never met had purchased the property in the 1940s and bequeathed it to Helen—and not Helen’s brother—when he died. Helen rarely said anything more about this, except that the brother (none of the girls had ever met him, either) had tried to fight Helen for it in court, saying it wasn’t fair that she get such a valuable property when she already made such a good living from her music. Water dripped down Liane’s back. She flipped her head and wrapped the towel like a turban, then kept walking. At the door of the screened-in wraparound porch she dipped her feet into the bucket of lake water she had set outside for the purpose of not tracking sand (and bugs, and Lyme-­disease-carrying ticks) around the cottage and dried them on the towel folded beside it. When Ilsa arrived at the end of the week, Liane knew, she would good-naturedly shun her younger sister’s custom, saying she wasn’t sticking her feet in dirty water everyone else had been sticking feet in, and that she definitely wasn’t then wiping her feet off on a musty towel. (“You want Lyme disease? Take this towel to a lab and have it analyzed.”) The sand underfoot would bother Liane, but not as much as it would bother Fiona. Liane would sweep but it would be Fiona who would eventually drag the old vacuum out of the closet and pull it around the main floor. Helen, of course, would have no part of any of it. “I vacuum when I’m about to leave,” she would say. “You’re wasting a valuable portion of your life by doing so now.” “I’m wasting something,” Fiona would say. “Probably the long-term health of my back. Tell me again why you don’t get a new vacuum?” “Because that one still works!” And then somehow, Helen and Fiona would be arguing over an old vacuum versus a new one, landfill versus convenience, and Liane would either glance at Ilsa and roll her eyes or leave the room feeling guilty about causing the fight with her silly bucket of water. Liane pushed open the screen door and let it bang shut behind her, the sound jarring in the quiet of the morning. From behind the screen she had a view of the dock and she saw the man look up from his book. • • • Liane napped. She made soup. She did the Globe and Mail crossword as a warm-up and then failed, as usual, at completing any of the crosswords in the New York Times. She stared at Sudoku boxes, but could make no sense of them. “Your brain just doesn’t work that way,” Adam had once said, meaning it to be an affectionate remark—but there was the superior undertone. He was one of those people whose brains worked every way. She had said this to him and heard the unintended resentment. This must be what old married couples feel like. And we’ve only been together three years. She painted her nails with polish she found in Ilsa’s room. (Dark red.) She found cream in a drawer in Helen’s room and rubbed it all over her face, then broke out in red bumps from the essential oils. (This always happened, yet she always tried Helen’s creams.) She iced the bumps. She removed the polish. Then she went up to the closet her father once used and opened it. But there was nothing in it but old jackets, none of them his. She stared into the closet until her breathing became slow and even. She wished that if she pulled aside the jackets, she would be standing before a whole new world, like Narnia. She pulled aside the jackets. This didn’t happen. She felt childish and foolish, but also wistful. What Liane did not do was work on her thesis. When she wasn’t inside, she was on the dock. She and the neighbor—the Reading Man, as she now called him in her head—were now on cottage waving terms. He had finished Junkie and started on The Sound and the Fury. She had started bringing her textbooks and reference materials down to the dock. Lying parallel to him, also reading, felt strangely intimate. Then, on Tuesday afternoon, it rained and she was forced inside, where the blinking light on her still-plugged-in laptop seemed to pulse with neglect. She forced herself to write two paragraphs. Then she reread the words on the screen. They no longer made any sense. She held her breath, and heard the clinking of dishes from the cottage next door. Liane’s thesis was called “The Evil Eye: Envy’s Hidden Threat.” Apparently it had the potential to be something of a sensation, even publishable, although Liane didn’t understand how any of her findings could be a surprise to anyone. Perhaps it was because she had lived with them for so long that she was now like a woman shocked to find her husband of thirty-some years the center of attention at a dinner party due to the intrigue of his conversational paths. “It’s the way you present it,” Tansy Miller, a brown-trouser-and-black-oxford-wearing academic, had explained to her when Adam’s father, the dean, had arranged for Liane and Tansy to meet for coffee. It was Tansy whose teaching Liane would assist, if she ever finished her thesis. “It’s your frankness. It’s the fact that reading your work isn’t boring and the students are bound to see it as such. You mention celebrities. They love celebrities.” Tansy talked like she had once been a theater major, enunciating her words and using her hands. Liane liked her and wanted to work for her. This had done nothing to spur her into thesis-finishing action. The problem was that Liane’s work had become boring, at least to her. Adam had once said, “Well, of course it is, that’s what happens, but you’ve found your niche and you need to stick with it now. You’ll get out of the slump.” Except she was afraid she wouldn’t. Once, the folklore-related work of Alan Dundes, discovered by Liane during her undergrad years, had seemed to hold secrets. She had believed these secrets might even reveal an important point about humanity as a whole. If she could just get back that fervor, maybe everything would be okay. Now Liane took out a pen and started to make notes by hand, snapping the screen of her laptop shut. Her pen scratched against paper: Envious gazes, Dundes has written, are driven by envious thoughts and have the potential to do actual physical damage. The evil eye is not a black-magic-related curse, as most people believe, but rather the embodiment of an envious glare—an instant curse that anyone is capable of, even without intent. It is the lack of intent that is the point: Can we control something we do not intend to do? She paused and thought suddenly of William Burroughs. It is as though everyone is in possession of a loaded gun he or she could accidentally set off at any moment, she wrote. Liane was not an envious person herself and did not believe she possessed anything in particular for others to be envious of (she considered herself average-looking, hated her reddish hair, was possibly of higher-than-average intelligence but not a genius, and wasn’t rich). But envy, and its power to damage, was part of the myth of her childhood. Helen had been a popular folksinger who was now often featured in nostalgic documentaries; recently one of her songs had even been covered by a well-known alternative band. Liane had noticed as a child that Helen would never leave the house without first securing a necklace with an evil eye charm dangling from its chain around her neck. When Liane asked, Helen told her it was because, right around the time her first gold record was delivered (1969; Helen had only been twenty), her throat started to ache constantly. She went to see a shaman about it—“Why a shaman?” Fiona, who had been in the room at the time, had asked. “Why not a doctor?” But Helen had ignored her—and the shaman had told her that someone was doing black magic on her, possibly inadvertently and definitely due to envy. (“I was so young. It was unheard-of. Joni Mitchell didn’t have her first gold record until the next year, and she was already twenty-seven.”) If she didn’t protect herself, the shaman told Helen, she could lose her voice forever. Liane had pictured the shaman as a frightening character with a headdress made of dead animal skulls and felt foolish when, years later, it turned out he was an old friend of Helen’s named Bob. Liane became afraid that her mother really would lose her voice. She had a recurring nightmare about walking in the forest on the island with Helen and a large black bird attacking her mother’s throat. And as she grew older, she began to feel anxious every time she felt envious of anyone. She developed a fear of the damage she might unwittingly do to others if she ever allowed it to take hold—and so she tried to care as little as possible about what others had that she did not. (Once, as an awkward preteen, she had looked at Ilsa and thought, Why can’t I be that beautiful? and then had run from the room and refused to make eye contact with her sister for the rest of the day.) She put down her pen. Fear. This was part of her problem. She was afraid that if she completed the thesis and got the job helping Tansy teach classes about superstition and folklore, she’d eventually get a post teaching classes on superstition and folklore herself. (Wasn’t that the entire point? Her niche, as Adam put it.) She was afraid she would then end up teaching the same thing over and over until one day she would look out at a class full of young people with futures ahead of them that were undetermined, all of these young bodies still possessing the freedom to walk out of the lecture hall and never come back if they didn’t want to— And she’d smite them all with an envious glare. The fact that her childish fears still loomed large in her life was not the kind of thing she could discuss with Adam. Or anyone, really. She looked down at her wrist and fiddled with the red string that was there (she didn’t practice kabbalah; the red string guarded against the evil eye and was less obvious than a necklace, so Liane wore it on the off chance that anyone ever became envious of her), then abandoned her work, even going so far as to shut down her laptop in an act that felt final, defiant. It’s only for now. I just need a break. She went outside and sat on the end of the dock. There was a slight chill in the air. Summer had not yet taken hold. The dock next door was empty, and no sounds were carried to her across the small expanse of water. She thought about what she might say, if she could work up the courage to talk to the Reading Man. Hi, would be a start. But, historically, she had never been able to do this. • • • Liane had been in grade six when she had her first irrational crush on a boy she didn’t know. Boys she did know didn’t interest her at all, but sometimes she’d see a boy walking down the street or working at a store and suddenly think, That could be him, he could be The One. She’d gift him with all sorts of characteristics he probably didn’t have and lie in her bed at night dreaming up ideal meeting scenarios and perfect conversations. She would eventually feel like she knew the boy, even if she had just created an ideal version of him in her mind. This was back when she still believed in The One, of course. Now she wasn’t sure. But she was probably going to marry Adam anyway. “We should probably get married,” he had said to her a few weeks before while they were out for dinner, eating at their regular table in the corner of a picket-fenced patio they liked to frequent. Liane had wished not to feel so disappointed. A different type of woman, the woman Adam perhaps thought she was, would have been thrilled. So practical, yes, why didn’t they? They had made some rudimentary plans—nothing traditional, obviously, and not a destination wedding because it was overdone and presumptuous; how about cocktails? Adam even suggested screening their favorite movie for their friends. (It was a French noir film called Breathless, and it was his favorite, not hers. She didn’t point this out.) Popcorn. Spiked Cokes. But wasn’t that missing the point? The night was supposed to be about them. He had raised an eyebrow when she said this. About us? he had repeated. Liane hadn’t told anyone yet that they were engaged, if they really were. But she knew that marrying Adam would mark some sort of shift into a life she had to stick with. It had never occurred to her that she might not want to. She had always been the type of person to stick with everything. Back in grade six, Liane’s routine was to cut through the parking lot of the plaza across from her school every afternoon, although it wasn’t necessary for her to do so. Sometimes she would be with Ilsa, who was in eighth grade, but almost never with Fiona, who was in university by that point. When she passed the window of the pet food store, Liane would strain to catch a glimpse of the boy who worked there, while trying not to look like she was looking. He was much older than she, probably sixteen. She was only eleven. This, combined with the fact that he worked at a pet food store and she didn’t have any pets, meant meeting him was unlikely. But it didn’t matter. Liane didn’t know his name or anything about him other than the fact that he almost always wore a purple Barenaked Ladies hat. She listened to the album Gordon over and over. When school let out for the summer, she walked by the pet food store at least twice a day. She made Ilsa go with her to three Barenaked Ladies concerts in the hopes that she’d see the boy. She never did. “Why don’t you go in and buy a can of dog food or something?” Ilsa had asked after finally refusing to attend another concert, or listen to the song “Brian Wilson,” ever again. “He’ll never know you don’t have a dog.” They were standing outside the store. “Do it! I’ll wait here.” But Liane shook her head, embarrassed. To Ilsa it would have been nothing to saunter in, grab a can of dog food, and ask dozens of questions about it with her hand on the boy’s forearm. He probably would have asked Ilsa out, too. It didn’t matter that Ilsa was thirteen. She looked sixteen and acted even older. But Ilsa would have said no. She would have been angry with the boy, even though he couldn’t possibly have known that it was Liane, standing outside with red splotches on her pale, freckled cheeks, who had a crush on him. “I can’t,” Liane had said. “I just can’t. I can’t talk to him. I’ll die.” “No one has ever died from saying hello to their crush.” “I mig

Editorial Reviews

“Heartbreaking and strikingly honest. Stapley challenges entrenched ideas of what it means to be a wife and mother, explores how modern women often struggle to maintain their own identities in the face of societal expectations, [and] excels at bringing the reader into the lives of these women.”