Mary Gooch battles her weight every day. She has termed it “the Obeast” after mishearing her mother and the doctor talking when she was a child. She and the Obeast engage in a daily battle of wills with Mary usually losing and finding herself treading that well worn track from bedroom to refrigerator multiple times a day. At the beginning of The Wife’s Tale Mary is waiting for her husband, handsome Jimmy Gooch, to come home to celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. It soon becomes apparent that Jimmy Gooch isn’t coming home and all he has left behind is a vague note and $25,000 in her bank account which he claims is half his winnings from a lottery scratch card. Mary decides to set out on a journey to find Jimmy and starts in California where his mother lives. For a woman like Mary, whose weight has curtailed every activity in her life, the simple act of getting on an airplane is an adventure, never mind what follows.
Despite the interesting premise above, The Wife’s Tale gets off to a slow start. Lansens flips back and forth between Mary’s predicament in the present day, and filling in Mary’s backstory by way of memories and stories. This leads to a very disjointed first half and it is difficult for the reader to pick up momentum in the early stages. As Mary settles down in Los Angeles to wait for Jimmy Gooch and begins to make a life for herself, the book picks up speed and becomes more readable and less fractured.
Mary is a likeable character but some of the events that happen to her in the book stretch the reader’s credulity. A makeover episode with a limo driver and his friend is ridiculous, and when Mary meets and forms a friendship with a Mexican man named Jesus, I heaved a sigh of frustration. Lansens is at times also guilty of lazy writing and there were a couple of sentences that made me wonder what she was aiming at. An example: “Nearby two whittled Williams and a pitted Paul were playing poker for a pot of pennies”. Is this supposed to be a tongue twister or narrative fiction? A more scrupulous editor would have benefited the book immensely.
Lansens drew widespread acclaim with her second novel The Girls which I found to be a thoroughly engaging, well researched and brilliantly realised piece of fiction. The Wife’s Tale is hopefully just a bump in the road for Lansens.