The Wife’s Tale
Published by: Back Bay Books
Release Date: July 7, 2011
Buy the Book: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indigo
On the eve of her 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 stand still, 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 her inertia, and she begins a desperate search.
“Lansens’ rendering of the hell that is compulsive eating somehow transcends … Mary Gooch becomes real and unforgettable.”
“A sensitive but deliciously comic account of Mary’s fight against the ‘obeast’ that has lived inside her since childhood.”
—The New York Times
“Lansens’ clear prose unveils the connection between a body weighed down by flesh and a spirit smothered by loneliness. Mary’s odyssey of heartache and hope is not so much about finding her husband as it is about rediscovering herself.”
“[Mary is] a wonderful character, and Lansens’ handling of her eventual transformation into someone capable of compassion and acceptance is handled with a light but assured touch”
“Lansens’ portrait of a woman who hides behind the Kenmore as protection from life’s heartache is earthy and primal in its pain. Yet Lansens doesn’t resort to an overnight makeover to save Mary. Instead, our heroine uncovers a hidden strength she had all along. Those who loved The Girls will be pleased that Lansens is back. Highly recommended.”
—Library Journal, starred review
“Lori Lansens, best-selling author of The Girls, structures The Wife’s Tale as the story of a damaged heroine on a quest. The trick is that (as in any good quest story) the real object of the search isn’t what the searcher thinks it is. … [A] fast-moving story and Mary’s gradual metamorphosis ... rings true.”
“Lansens writes with acute insight … fully immersing readers in her protagonist’s struggle to find a new and better self.”
“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
“Lansens sketches another indelible female character… original [and] heartbreakingly funny and sad…”
—The Montreal Gazette
“This uplifting story illustrates how a life can be transformed at any time, even if it seems stuck in a permanent rut. Mary is wonderful … Lansens’ memorable journey takes Mary out of her comfort zone and reintroduces her not only to the world beyond but also to herself.”
“Lansens’s great capacity for humour and insight … makes this book riveting and compelling.”
“A painfully self-conscious yet hugely entertaining novel, Lori Lansens' The Wife's Tale is both heart-breaking and humorous. … Only an extraordinary storyteller like Lansens could make such an oddball character so entertaining and accessible.”
“Mary wins us over from the start … she is privately passionate and determined.”
—The Globe and Mail
“A book club favourite returns with yet another unconventional heroine … [Lansens is] a persuasive, dynamic storyteller.”
Like many women I’ve had lifelong issues related to food and self-image. When I was in my early twenties I had a yearlong encounter with anorexia. Long before my husband, Milan, and I had a family, when we were still quite new, he left for several months to act in a season of theater in Western Canada. I’d recently quit my job at The Globe and Mail in Toronto to begin my career as a writer and was alone all day working on my old Smith typewriter, self-doubt my constant companion. In the evenings I waitressed at a nearby restaurant to pay the bills on my one-room loft in Cabbagetown.
Anyone who has been on wait-staff will tell you that working in any restaurant’s kitchen can kill an appetite pretty quickly. So it was with me. I started skipping meals, and then deliberately restricting food. Some days I ate nothing at all – a binge of sorts. There was something about the absence of food that felt almost spiritual. I had many friends in Toronto but withdrew from them, even though the loneliness was crushing, because I didn’t want to be judged, preferring to not-eat alone.
I was at the Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto one day, not-eating at food court, when I caught a glimpse of an extremely thin, unhealthy looking woman across the dining room. I shuddered at her appearance – the gaunt face and frail shoulders, child-sized pants hanging off her bony hips. Guessing that the woman was probably a decade younger than she looked, I vowed I would never let myself go that far. I sighed as I turned to go. She sighed and turned too. I looked back. She did too. It was me. She was me. We ate a sandwich that night.
When my husband and I made the decision to move our family from Toronto to California nearly ten years ago I lost my appetite again - for the year that proceeded the move and the first year and a half of our residence. We were fortunate, I knew, to have interesting careers – ones we’d worked hard for, and this move was an opportunity for me as a writer to experience a culture removed from my own. We were privileged to be living in a beautiful environment a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean too. It was a good move for our family on many levels but I deeply missed my relatives in southwestern Ontario and my friends in Toronto and felt ashamed of my lingering depression.
I funneled my sadness and anxiety into food. I didn’t want to eat it but I was distracted by it nonetheless. I loved watching television shows about the making of it, and articles about the losing of pounds from it. I watched other people eat food, and thought about it incessantly. Everyone has friends and family who happen to be obese. I am no exception. I would watch a particular man on my husband’s side get up to forage for food ten minutes after dinner, and reach for the fifth piece of desert, and another handful of nuts, and I understood, even when I was consuming nothing at all, what drove him. My addiction to not-eating was powerful too. (There are exceptions of course. There is no singular anorexic or obese personality. We are much too complicated for that.)
I didn’t call what I had anorexia because I was a mother and that diagnosis didn’t fit my soccer mom/basketball mom/school volunteer persona. I knew that my loss of appetite wasn’t normal, likely related to stress. The act of restricting food must have been sending positive messages to my brain though. Dopamine? Serotonin? Not-eating had become some kind of addiction. I started to wonder if obesity and anorexia aren’t two sides of the same coin. I feel deeply connected to Mary Gooch, no matter that she weighed substantially more than me. I lived on her side of the pendulum for several years when I wrote The Wife’s Tale. We were both looking for victory over our addictions. For me, Mary’s story didn’t have anything to do with losing weight, or the mystery of what happened to Gooch, her wayward husband. It was all about power over food.