The Wife's Tale

Paperback | April 27, 2010

byLori Lansens

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It’s the eve of her twenty-fifth wedding anniversary and Mary Gooch is waiting for her husband, Jimmy, to come home. But Mary isn’t just waiting for Jimmy. She is waiting for a mother who accepts her, children she is unable to have, a life beyond the well-worn path from her bedroom to the refrigerator. Mary is waiting for her life to start.
 
As she waits for Jimmy, the night passes into day and it becomes clear that he isn’t coming home. A letter left in the mailbox confirms her worst fears and Mary is left alone to make a difficult decision. Should she break free from her inertia and salvage her marriage? Or is the pull of the familiarity of her home, the predictability of her daily routines, too strong to resist?
 
For the first time in her life, Mary decides to leave and boards a plane to California. She flies across the country in a desperate attempt to find her husband. The clothes, the marriage, the home that had given her a place to hide for so long are all gone. Mary soon finds that the bright sun and broad vistas of California force her to look up from the pavement, stop waiting and start living. What she finds when she does is an inner strength she’s never felt before. Through it all, Mary not only finds kindred spirits, but reunites with a more intimate stranger no longer sequestered by fear and habit: herself.


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From the Publisher

It’s the eve of her twenty-fifth wedding anniversary and Mary Gooch is waiting for her husband, Jimmy, to come home. But Mary isn’t just waiting for Jimmy. She is waiting for a mother who accepts her, children she is unable to have, a life beyond the well-worn path from her bedroom to the refrigerator. Mary is waiting for her life to s...

Lori Lansens is the author of two bestselling novels, Rush Home Road and The Girls, which was a Richard & Judy Best Read of the Year in 2006 (and sold over 300,000 copies in the UK) and a finalist for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction. Born and raised in Chatham, Ontario, Lori Lansens now makes her home in California.From the Hard...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:384 pages, 8 × 5.2 × 1 inPublished:April 27, 2010Publisher:Knopf CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307398390

ISBN - 13:9780307398390

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Customer Reviews of The Wife's Tale

Reviews

Rated 3 out of 5 by from Yes a great book, not at all what I expected. Inspired good discussion
Date published: 2016-08-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Left me hanging As a fan of Lori Lansens I am sorry to say that I was disappointed by her latest novel. This is the story of a woman with self esteem issues who's life is turned upside down when her husband walks out on her. I actually didn't mind Mary, even though it was tough to read her self depricating thoughts and descriptions of food binging, what I found disappointing was that I listened to her pine for "Gooch" for 300+ pages and in the end, there was no resolution at all with him. I get that the point of the novel was one woman's journey to self acceptance, but she should have at least tied it off by having Mary come to the realization that she'd outgrown him and have her either start a new life in the States or go home to Canada by herself. I hate when I invest my time and an author leaves me hanging!
Date published: 2011-03-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I couldn't put it down I was surprized that it was a "keep you reading book". I admire the beauty of the words. The thought provoking sequences. I spent the entire book walking on the surface waiting for the return, I finished the book knowing it was so much more! Thank you Lori for a wonderful addition to my shelf and a tale I can share with others.
Date published: 2010-07-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from OK It was an ok book, but it did not really engage me. I had a hard time connecting to the main character. It was well written, for sure, just not the story for me.
Date published: 2010-07-12

Extra Content

Read from the Book

A Pretty FaceAlone in the evenings, when the light had drained from the slate roof of her small rural home, and when her husband was working late, Mary Gooch would perform a striptease for the stars at the open bedroom window: shifting out of rumpled bottoms, slipping off blousy top, liberating breasts, peeling panties, her creamy flesh spilling forth until she was completely, exquisitely nude. In the darkness, she’d beg her lover the wind to ravish her until she needed to grasp the sill for support. Then, inhaling the night like a post-coital cigarette, Mary would turn to face the mirror, who’d been watching all along.The mirror held the image Mary Gooch knew as herself, a forty-three-year-old brunette standing five and a half feet tall, so gilded with fat that hardly a bone from her skeleton could insinuate itself in her reflection. No hint of clavicle, no suggestion of scapula, no jag in her jaw, no scallop in her knee, no crest of ilium, no crook of knuckle, not a phalange in the smallest of her fingers. And no cords of muscle, either, as if she were enrobed by a subcutaneous duvet.Mary remembered, when she was nine years old, stepping off the scale in Dr. Ruttle’s office and hearing him whisper the word to her slight mother, Irma. It was an unfamiliar word, but one she understood in the context of the fairy-tale world. Obeast. There were witches and warlocks. So must there be ogres and obeasts. Little big Mary wasn’t confused by the diagnosis. It made sense to her child’s mind that her body had become an outward manifestation of the starving animal in her gut.Such a pretty face. That was what people always said. When she was a child they made the comment to her mother, with tsking pity or stern reproach, depending on their individual natures. As she grew, the pitying, reproving people made the comment directly to Mary. Such a pretty face. Implied was the disgrace of her voluminous body, the squander of her green eyes and bow lips, her aquiline nose and deep-cleft chin and her soft skin, like risen dough, with no worry lines to speak of, which was remarkable because, when she wasn’t eating, that’s what Mary Gooch did.She worried about what she would eat and what she would not eat. When and where she would or wouldn’t. She worried because she had too much or not nearly enough. She worried about hypertension, type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, heart attack, stroke, osteoarthritis. The contempt of strangers. The mouths of babes. Sudden death. Protracted death. She worried all the more because all the worry made her sleepless, and in her dreamless hours hosted more worries, about her husband, Gooch, and the approach of their silver anniversary, about her menial job at Raymond Russell Drugstore and about her list, which she imagined not as Things to do but Things left undone.Weight is only numbers on a scale, she told herself, and her mirror just another point of view. Squinting at her naked reflection when the moon was waxing and the angle just right, Mary Gooch saw beauty in the poetry of her contours, in the expressive, expansive, edible flesh, and understood why an artist sketching nudes might find appealing the mountainous gut, and favour the pocked shore of sloping thigh, and enjoy the depth and shadow of pendulous breasts and multiple chins. A shape ample and sensuous, like the huge round vase handed down on the Brody side of the family, in which she arranged her ditch lilies in the spring. Or like the dunes of virgin snow on the hills beyond her home outside small-town Leaford.Mary wished to be a rebel against the tyranny of beauty but was instead a devotee, coveting its currency, devouring images in glossy magazines and broadcast TV, especially the kind that chronicled the lives of the rich and famous. She lingered over the body shots, outlining with her fingertips, like an appreciative lover, the rock-hard abdominals and concrete glutes, sinewy arms and pumped deltoids–so daring on a woman–coltish legs, wasp waist, swan’s neck, lion’s mane, cat’s eyes. She accepted the supremacy of beauty, and could not deny complicity in the waste of her own.It was often an unbearable burden for Mary Gooch to carry both her significant weight and the responsibility for it, and she naturally sought to blame. The media was her target, just as it was another of her addictions. She would tear through the pages of her magazines, gratified by the celebrity cellulite, horrified by the gorgeous anorexics, noting the fall must-haves, sneering with the critics about fashion disasters, then realize she’d eaten a quart of premium ice cream, coerced by the advertisement beneath the picture of the TV cutie with poor taste in men. Mary knew it was all the media’s fault, but finger pointing was too much exercise, and she couldn’t sustain the blame for long. Especially since she was so often confronted by the stupid genius of just saying no.Jimmy Gooch, Mary’s husband of nearly twenty-five years, read Time and Newsweek and Scientific American and The Atlantic and National Geographic. He watched CNN, even when America was not on red alert, and cable talk shows with clever panelists who laughed when nothing was funny. With Gooch working late most evenings, and busy playing golf on the weekends, Mary reckoned they were down to spending only a hand ful of waking hours a week together and wished to relieve the silence between them, but didn’t share Gooch’s passion for politics. The couple sometimes found common ground in musing on the vagaries of human nature. “Read the essay at the back,” Gooch had said recently, tapping her on the head with the rolled-up magazine– a gesture she charged was aggressive, but he argued, playful.The article spoke of the ills of North American culture, the mistaking of acquisition for success, gluttony for fulfillment. Gooch clearly meant for Mary to draw a comparison to her gastronomical indulgence, and she did, but the piece was provocative in its own right, posing the question: Are people generally happier now, with instant access and quick fixes and thousands of channels and brands to choose from, than they were before the Industrial Revolution? Mary instantly decided no. In fact, she wondered if the opposite was true, that in the hardscrabble life of her pioneering ancestors, whose singularity of purpose was clear, there had been no time to ponder happiness. Chop wood. Carry water. It was impossible to imagine that the early Brodys, who’d cleared Leaford from the Burger King to the gas station, had ever endured a sleepless night.Having read enough magazines, and having spent hours lurking in the self-help section, Mary Gooch knew that she wasn’t alone in her morbid obesity or her abstract malaise. Symptoms of despair were everywhere, and formulas for success within her grasp. A person could get a good night’s sleep and wake refreshed, shed unwanted pounds without dieting, make dinners for six in twenty minutes or less, rekindle sexual passion, and achieve five personal goals by the end of the month. A person could. But in spite of the step-by-step instructions, Mary could not. The secret remained classified. She appeared to be missing some key ingredient, something simple and elusive, like honesty.Mary had been raised without religion but instinctively drew a separation between her spirit and body. Her spirit had no gravitational pull. Her body weighed three hundred and two of earth’s pounds–the two pounds significant because she’d once vowed that she’d kill herself if she got up beyond three hundred. Another promise broken. Further recrimination. The truth of what drove her hunger was as present and mysterious as anyone’s God.Certainly grief fed the beast, and with her encroaching middle age came more and greater opportunities for it. Every passage, but particularly the corporeal kind, further embellished Mary Gooch. Thirty pounds for her mother, accumulated over many months, years ago, although Irma was not actually deceased. The babies, so long ago, had added fifteen and twenty pounds respectively. Then it was the ten when her father died in the spring. And another ten with Mr. Barkley in the summer. She felt vaguely charitable assigning the poundage to her loved ones, in the same way that she was mildly comforted by calculating her load in UK stones, in the British style, rather than North American pounds.During her painful cycles of grief and gain, Mary thought it would be better to have any religion and lose it, than never to have one at all. She relied on dubious knowledge and remedial understanding to cobble together a system of beliefs that she was forever editing and amending, depending on the latest magazine article or persuasive celebrity endorsement. Except for the rule of three–an enduring belief, if unfounded by religious text. Terrible things happen in clusters of three. Death, serious accidents, financial ruin. One. Two. Three. What would end the trilogy after her father and Mr. Barkley, she wondered. Another death? Or just more deceptively endurable misfortune?Hauling her corpulence the few steps from her truck in the parking lot to the back door of Raymond Russell Drugstore, starved for breath, heart valves flushing and fluppering, Mary would think, It’s me. I will end the trilogy. Here comes my fatal heart attack. Drowning in regret, she’d see everything clearly, the way reckless adults do, too late. But like all things, the feeling would pass, and she would click on another worry, each one dense and nuanced enough to sustain her interest, with intriguing links to distract her from the larger picture. The ticking of time. The machinations of denial.Mary Gooch did not so much pray to God as wish to God, of whom she was sporadically unsure. She wished to God for an end to all wars. And that her manager would catch his scrotum in the cash register at work. She wished for her mother’s peaceful death. And that she had something nice to wear to her silver anniversary dinner party. And then there was the wish that preempted all other wishes, the one she wished hourly, eternally– that she could just lose the weight. This wish Mary would offer to her uncertain God in the smallest and most humble of voices. If I could just lose the weight, Gooch would love me again. Or sometimes it was, I could let Gooch love me again. The state of her body was inseparable from the state of her marriage, and the universe.If I could just lose the weight.For all her uncertainty about God, and in addition to the rule of three, Mary Gooch believed in miracles.From the Hardcover edition.

Bookclub Guide

1. Mary Brody struggles with what she calls her “obeast.” What is her obeast? Beyond the obvious “subcutaneous duvet” she carries, how else does that struggle manifest itself in her life?2. At one point, Mary admits to hating when she’s described as having a “pretty face.” Why?3. Why do you believe Jimmy Gooch (Gooch) left his wife? More importantly, why does Mary break from the inertia she’s lived with for so long to leave and look for Gooch?4. When Mary complains to her father that she must be a pessimist because she always sees the glass half-empty, her father replies, “Forget about the glass, Murray. Get a drink from the hose and push on” (p. 27). In what ways, if any, does Mary heed his advice?5. Mary often attributes her weight gain to grief and loss. If that’s the case, why does she start to lose weight after Gooch is gone? Is her transformation permanent? What might happen to Mary if Gooch returns?6. While walking on the beach with Jesus, Mary finally articulates out loud what she has known in her heart for some time – Gooch is not coming back. At what point does Mary move from waiting for Gooch to having a life without him? Why was she never angry with him for leaving her?7. At Frankie’s hairdressing salon, a woman comments on Mary’s admission that Gooch has left her, saying “I don’t care what happened. Twenty-five years is worth fighting for” (p. 174). Do you agree in principle? Do you agree in Mary’s case?8. At the points in her journey where she needs it most, Mary always finds someone waiting to help: Big Avi, Frankie, Eden, Emery Carr, Ronnie Reeves, Jesus Garcia. What accounts for her good fortune? Is Mary experiencing the kindness of strangers because she’s “looking up” from the ground for the first time in years?9. How do these benevolent gestures from strangers tap into the giving side of Mary’s nature?10. Can you think of an instance in your own life when someone or something arrived just when you needed it most?11. Mary has an interesting and redemptive relationship with her mother-in-law. What is it that they need from each other and how do they find it?12. What was your reaction to the end of Mary’s story? What do you believe is next for her?

Editorial Reviews

"Like short-story queen Alice Munro, to whom she is often compared, Lansens demonstrates a singular gift for discerning both the ordinary and the extraordinary in small-town life and small-town people."— Winnipeg Free Press"A persuasive, dynamic storyteller, Lansens leads us through flashbacks into the world of a lonely, always-hungry child, who grows into a dutiful, anxious, hungry adult."— The Toronto Star"[Lansens’s] gift, and it’s to be cherished, is one of deep engagement with her subject, and empathetic involvement that broadens to draw in the reader."— The Globe and Mail "Heartwarming. . . . It's the urgency of this quest, along with Lansens's great capacity for humour and insight, especially as pertaining to the complex world of human emotions, that makes this book so riveting and compelling. . . . Lansens's equation of middle age with a second chance is a cheeringly attractive proposition."— The Gazette"A sensitive but deliciously comic account of Mary’s fight against the ‘obeast’ that has lived inside her since childhood, The Wife’s Tale offers more than self-improvement: there are loving reflections on marriage and family in small-town Ontario, hilarious travelogues about American obsessions . . . of course, there’s plenty of self-discovery too." — The New York TimesFrom the Hardcover edition.