Little, Brown, 2010. ISBN 978-0-316-06931-1.
Reviewed by Karen Ballinger
Posted on 12/21/2009
The Wife's Tale by Lori Lansens is a book for anyone who has suffered from their own personal "obeast." For Mary Gooch, her obeast is her weight, a problem she has lived with for all her life. We meet Mary Gooch on a sleepless night on the eve of her 25th wedding anniversary, waiting for her husband to come home. "Do all sleepless people play the events of their lives like a television rerun?" We get to know Mary Gooch by watching those reruns with her to the thumping of her night clock. The continued absence of her husband breaks Mary out of her inertia into a new life that she could never have imagined.
This book reminded me of how my mother used to describe my father as having a lot of inertia, and this book captures that idea perfectly. Inertia in my mind always implies motion, but in this context it describes the resistance of an object to change its current state of motion. Both Mary and my father and countless others set a path in their lives and are resistant to stray from that path. Fear of change and fear of self prevents them from making any changes. Mary's inertia prevents her from saying the kind words she can only think of later and participating in life with her husband. Only a crisis of an absent husband can change the path of Mary's life and her battle with the obeast.
The first half of The Wife's Tale takes place in Canada, the setting of Lansen's two previous novels, The Girls and Rush Home Road. The second half takes place in sunny California with its stereotypical cast of characters and hopeful Hollywood ending, possibly reflective of Lansen's background in screenwriting. Mary benefits from the kindness of strangers that is almost believable, depending on one's level of cynicism. The story is familiar, but even so, I became engrossed in Mary's journey and invested in her life. Anyone who has wanted to change the path of his or her life will enjoy the ride along with Mary.
The Wife's Tale is not my favorite of Lansen's books having read her previous two. The Wife's Tale starts out slowly and the style feels different, perhaps due to Lansen's own personal transition to another country as she mentions in her acknowledgments. Her displacement in moving countries is accurately captured in Mary's experiences, but the poetry and reality of the characters of her previous two novels was missing for me. The Wife's Tale is still a great read for women facing their own battles against their own lifelong obeasts. Mary's story encourages women to break out of their well-worn paths to discover what they can really do.
Lori Lansens was born and raised in Ontario, Canada, and currently lives in California. She was previously a screenwriter before writing Rush Home Road and The Girls, two well received novels. More information about Lansens can be found on her website.
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