A blogger is sometimes asked "What's your favourite book?' I have discovered many authors that I absolutely love. But when pressed, my all time favourite is Canadian Lori Lansens. Her first novel Rush Home Road - and Addy Shadd, the indomitable, remarkable protagonist - has stayed with me since it was written in 2002.
Newly released by Random House Canada, The Wife's Tale is Lansen's third book. I have been anticipating this one for months.....
Mary Gooch is a resident of Baldoon County, a fictionalized setting in the Chatham, Ontario area used for all three of Lansen's novels.
Mary lives with her husband Jimmy Gooch in the small town of Leaford. Mary is overweight, very overweight and has been for most of her life.
"Mary remembered, when she was nine years old, stepping off the scale in Dr. Ruttle's office and hearing him whisper the word to her slight mother, Irma. It was an unfamiliar word, but one she understood in the context of the fairy-tale world. Obeast. There were witches and warlocks. So must there be ogres and obeasts. Little big Mary wasn't confused by the diagnosis. It made sense to her child's mind that her body had become an outward manifestation of the starving animal in her gut."
Trapped within a mountain of flesh and powerless to control 'her raging hunger', she waits for Jimmy to come home. She is planning a party for their 25th wedding anniversary. Mary sits reminiscing and we are privy to her past and the emotions that come with it - the joy, sadness, anguish and... 'her hunger was ever present, but her self loathing came in waves." As she waits, she is struck by a sense of foreboding. When Jimmy doesn't return...
"It struck her that there must be some other door left open through which she'd let out Gooch."
Mary has been cocooned in the small, insulated world of Leaford. Gooch always wanted Mary to come with him in his furniture truck on deliveries to other locales, but Mary always resisted. With nothing but a receipt from a Toronto restaurant to go on, Mary braves the world and strikes out to find Jimmy.
What follows is an amzing journey on so many levels. I don't want to spoil the book, so I'm not going to give you much more of the plot. This is a book that deserves to be unfolded for each and every reader's discovery.
Why do I love Lori Lansen's writing so much? Her characters. They become so real - I get so invested in their stories. Mary's hurt, pain, bewilderment and awakening evoke such strong emotions. I ache when Mary is treated cruelly and rejoice when kindness comes from unlikely sources. The supporting cast of characters are no less vividly drawn. Each of them has their own hunger to battle.
Lansen's deft turn with a phrase, a description, create an achingly real portrait of a woman whose driving, tearing, roaring hunger has robbed her of much of life. Her journey to reclaimation is thought provoking and gut wrenching.
I thought about Mary Gooch long after I turned the last page. Yet again, Lansens has captured me. When asked about my favourite now, I will have to answer with both Rush Home Road and The Wife's Tale.
Lansen has created a great website. There are photo albums depicting the settings in the book, a great book club discussion page