Wife's Tale (Lansens)

The Wife's Tale
Lori Lansens, 2009
Knopf Doubleday (Canada); Little, Brown & Co. (USA)
368 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780316069311

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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—July, 1962
Where—Chatham, Ontario, Canada
Education—St. Clair College (Windsor, Ont.)
Currently—lives near Los Angeles, California, USA

Lori Lansens was a successful screenwriter before she burst onto the literary scene in 2002 with her first novel Rush Home Road. Translated into eight languages and published in eleven countries, Rush Home Road received rave reviews around the world.

Her follow-up novel, The Girls, was an international success as well. The Wife's Tale, her third novel, was published in 2009. Born and raised in Chatham, Ontario, Lori Lansens now makes her home in Los Angeles with her husband and two children (From the publisher.)

Her own words:

I was born in July 1962 in small-town Chatham, Ontario, a rural community near the border to Detroit, Michigan, where I spent the first eighteen years of my life, a landscape that would become the backdrop for my first three novels.

My father worked at a factory that made trucks. My mother stayed at home and cared for me and my brothers, one a year younger than me, one a year older, all of us born in July.... We were free to explore, to wander, and to wonder.

I attended St. Ursula Catholic School from kindergarten to eighth grade. My friends were mostly Italian and Portuguese and I loved their homes with the sides of beef and pork curing in meat lockers, and cloves of garlic dripping from ceilings, and the curious second ovens that they all seemed to keep in their basements. I was strongly influenced by my religious upbringing, and at one point considered becoming a nun, but when our parish refused to baptize my bi-racial cousins I stopped going to church altogether.

After high school I attended St. Clair College in Windsor to study advertising and business. My plan was to become a copy writer, to marry my passion for writing with a practical approach to making a living.

I met my husband of twenty-five years, Milan Cheylov, when he was a young actor. He’d recently returned to Toronto from acting school in New York and I was new in town, working in the classified advertising department of  [Toronto's] The Globe and Mail. We met by coincidence at Bennie’s, an old deli near Yonge and Bloor Street. We talked about books and he asked what I was reading. I pulled a tattered, decade-old copy of Mordechai Richler’s Cocksure from my purse. Milan grinned, reached into his duffel bag and pulled out the same novel.

After writing a dozen more short stories, none of which were published, but for which I received just enough encouragement from editors, I decided to try my hand at dramatic writing. Milan suggested I take a few acting classes to better understand the actor’s process and I found myself bitten by the bug. My most memorable moment was playing a scene opposite Al Pacino and John Goodman in Sea of Love. My part was cut out of the movie, but the week I spent on set helped pay our rent that summer. My lowest point was appearing in a children’s play, dressed in a squirrel suit, being upstaged by a fly in a window. I quit acting and turned back to writing— this time a screenplay—South of Wawa. The movie, starring Rebecca Jenkins and Catherine Fitch, was produced in 1992. One reviewer compared the screenplay to Chekov while another wondered if the screenwriter had been dropped on her head at birth.

[After several years] Milan suggested I take a break from the film world to write the novel I’d been dreaming of aloud for so many years..., and with Milan working long hours on film sets, I sat down to write the first chapters to Rush Home Road, the story of an old black woman who lives in a trailer park near Chatham, and the little mixed-race girl she takes in to change the course of both of their lives.... I finished the first draft of Rush Home Road in the weeks before my son was born. Our daughter was born just weeks after Rush Home Road was launched.

Shortly after The Girls [my second novel] was launched, my husband and I made the difficult decision to leave Canada, the city we’d lived in for twenty-five years, our family in south western Ontario, all of our friends, for Milan’s career opportunities in the television industry in L.A. Even before we’d made the decision to move I’d heard Mary Gooch calling from the sidelines—a woman in her forties who undergoes a dramatic transformation.

Milan and I live with our children in a rural canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains with coyotes and bobcats and rattlesnakes. From my office above the garage I can see a horse ranch across the road and beyond that, the tawny hills and clear blue sky. I’m currently at work on my next book.
(Adapted from the author's website.)

Book Reivews
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.
Globe and Mail (Canada)

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.
Toronto Star

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

Mary Gooch is beyond shock when her husband leaves the night before their silver anniversary party. Jimmy Gooch has always loved her, but with each new trauma—two early miscarriages, her father's death, even the loss of her feral cat—Mary has felt less worthy of his affection and more hungry. Now weighing 302 pounds, Mary can't seem to move past her malaise. Finding $25,000 in their bank account, Mary flies, for the first time, from their small Canadian town to her mother-in-law's home in Southern California, determined to wait for her prodigal spouse. While there, she loses her appetite but discovers a measure of self-worth through the "kindness of strangers." Verdict: Lansens's (The Girls) 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. —Bette-Lee Fox
Library Journal

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for The Wife's Tale:

1. In what ways has Mary Gooch's life become smaller and smaller as she enters mid-life? How has she withdrawn from the world...and why?

2. Talk about her obsessive eating. What drives her to food... what is Mary "hungry" for?

3. Comment on this quotation: "The anger of Mary's secret floated down to the silty bottom until another storm stirred it up again. But like the food she hid from herself Mary always knew its precise location." What does this passage reveal about Mary?

4. In what way is Mary a prisoner of her own body? Talk about the daily humiliations she undergoes because of her size?

5. In real life how do people treat the morbidly obese? For instance, what is really being said when someone utters, "such a pretty face"? What condescending or dismissive statements are said or written about any eating disorder, obesity or anorexia?

6. The history of storytelling is replete with heroes who undertake challenging journeys for a specific goal. In what way might The Wife's Tale be considered a "hero's journey," an "adventure" story...or a "coming of age" story? Outwardly, Mary searches for her husband; inwardly, what is her search really about? What is the treasure at the end of the journey?

7. One reader observed that Mary is like an onion. What might she have meant?

8. Talk about her mishaps and the numerous people Mary meets when she arrives in California. How do these acts of kindness begin to heal her?

9. What about Jimmy? What kind of man is he...what kind of husband?

10. Ultimately, how is Mary changed—on the inside? What does she come to learn about herself and the world?

11. To what extent does this passage represent a change in Mary: "Yes, she still believed in miracles. What were they but random occurrences that caused wonder instead of random occurrences that brought grief?"

12. To what extent did you sympathsize with Mary Gooch? Or were you irritated by or impatient with her? If so, did you find yourself rooting for her by the end?

13. Someone referred to Mary as "everywoman"—a character who symbolizes the plight of the modern female. Do you agree? If so, in ways is she representative of many woman today?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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