Mary Gooch’s biggest problem is not the size of her body, but the scope of her world. At just over 300 pounds, the 43-year-old Canadian is well aware that she’s fat; she has resigned herself to being that way. What she doesn’t realize, though, is the degree to which her weight has insulated and isolated her from the rest of society. She’s spent years in denial about how sheltered her life is, and when she’s forced to see it, the shock is worse than any she’s ever felt upon catching a glimpse of herself in a mirror.
Mary has been quietly accumulating pounds for years when her husband, the tall, handsome Jimmy Gooch, fails to come home one night—specifically, the night before their 25th wedding anniversary. Eventually he sends a note explaining that he has left $25,000 from a winning scratch-lottery ticket in their joint bank account, and that he needs “time to think.” At a loss, Mary sets out to find him, using the only clues she has: his family connections in California, some restaurant receipts and not much else.
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. Mary’s pursuit of her husband draws her slowly back into the world she’d been hiding from. She takes her first airplane flight, gets a makeover, stands up to her boss and her difficult mother-in-law, makes new friends, learns how to use an ATM card. She finds hidden reserves of endurance; she loses her appetite and her certainty about what her life is built on.
Occasional traces of hackneyed sentiment slip into the novel, but the fast-moving story and Mary’s gradual metamorphosis overcome such flaws easily. By the novel’s satisfying end, Mary has learned that it’s better to strive for balance and control than to hide behind one extreme or another. It’s not a simple transformation, and even if it’s not quite realistic, it certainly rings true.
Becky Ohlsen writes from Portland, Oregon.