Fiction Lori Lansens The Wife's Tale: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9780316069311

The Wife's Tale: A Novel

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9780316069311: The Wife's Tale: A Novel

On the eve of their Silver Anniversary, Mary Gooch is waiting for her husband Jimmy--still every inch the handsome star athlete he was in high school--to come home. As night turns to day, it becomes frighteningly clear to Mary that he is gone. Through the years, disappointment and worry have brought Mary's life to a standstill, and she has let her universe shrink to the well-worn path from the bedroom to the refrigerator. But her husband's disappearance startles her out of her inertia, and she begins a desperate search.

For the first time in her life, she boards a plane and flies across the country to find her lost husband. So used to hiding from the world, Mary finds that in the bright sun and broad vistas of California, she is forced to look up from the pavement. And what she finds fills her with 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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About the Author:

Lori Lansens was born and raised in Chatham, Ontario, a small Canadian town with a remarkable history and a collection of eccentric characters, which became the setting for her first two bestselling novels. Living with her family in southern California now, she could not resist the pull of her fictitious 'Baldoon County' when she set out to write The Wife's Tale. She took the journey, along with her main character, from Canada to the Pacific Coast of America, where she enjoys the sunshine, and has learned a thing or two about transformation.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

A Pretty Face


Alone 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 fo...

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