Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Wife's Tale by Lori Lansens

The Wife's Tale [text (large print)]
by Lori Lansens.
Thorndike, Me. : Center Point Pub., 2010.
480 p

Click on the Word Shakers logo to the right to see Sheila's review and links to other Word Shaker participants reviews.

Don't miss out on the giveaway of signed copies of Lori Lansens three novels at Sheila's Bookjourney.

I read this book in a single day over a month ago and returned it to the library soon after and couldn't get it back in time to refer to for the Word Shaker's discussion this week. So I'll be musing from memory here and probably unable to refer to most characters by name beyond Mary Gooch herself and her husband Jimmy.

Another thing making it difficult to discuss this story coherently is how much I identified with Mary. The fact that I've struggled with weight issues since the first year of my marriage 32 years ago is only part of it. I've also struggled with the heartache of infertility and the tendency towards isolation and dependency. Not, as with Mary, because of my weight but due to severe visual impairment and a mood disorder that includes profound social anxiety.

Thus reading this story was almost as eerie as reading a ghost story. Empathize does not seem a strong enough word for how I connected with Mary. It was almost like I slipped into her skin as if it were one of those large flannel nightgowns she wore. I felt her shame, guilt, self-disgust, despair, and fear as immediate as my own. Most likely because I didn't have to imagine them.

Mary's relationship to food though was different from mine. She binged between meals and ate in secret wearing that path between bedside and fridge door. I seldom go seeking the food but tend to overeat when it is set in front of me and then undereat when it is left up to me, which coupled with inactivity gives me the same results.

Mary and I did have one thing in common in this area come to think about it. We each had a loved one pushing food at us as some kind of compensation. In Mary's case it was her mother from early childhood on who seemed to use food as a substitute for her attention and affection for her daughter. In mine it was my husband's idea of fairness maybe in always giving me the same portions as his own 6 foot 5 inch frame demanded and always buying me candy, sodas or chips when he bought them or beer or cigarettes for himself. Again in his size portions. I would always say I'd rather have the money to spend on books but I never turned them down until recently.

Which brings me to Mary's other addiction: to the celebrity gossip magazines. At first I saw this as something so different from me as to be completely alien. Then I realized that those magazines gave Mary stories to loose herself in and it was condescending and snobbish of me to not see that as exactly the same as the novels and movies I binge on just because I can claim that the majority of them have 'literary' quality. Whatever that is.

Fear of being suddenly bereft of all family support has been a lurking nightmare for me for decades. I've already had one brief taste of being homeless on the streets and it was a waking nightmare. So when Mary's husband, Jimmy, does not come home the night of their 25th anniversary it seemed as if my worst fears were coming alive on the page.

At that point my sense of identity with Mary flickered on and off as step by step she walked out of her self-imposed prison and made her way out into the world, ostensibly searching for Jimmy but shedding the pounds as she accumulated confidence and friends and experience and hope along with a solid sense of herself.

I want to believe that, like Mary, I would go beyond surviving into thriving if faced with similar challenges but that also flickers on and off in my imagination. And I'm left wondering why I tempt fate by letting days and decades slide by without dealing with the issues that could lead to my perpetual dependency and/or an old age bereft of social or financial support and homeless in a world that remains a waking nightmare.

And I ask myself why someone capable of imagining worlds into being on a page and setting hundreds of characters in motion in them has a complete failure of imagination when it comes to setting herself in motion in her own life.

Ultimately, having identified so intensely with the Mary at the beginning of the story I was also able to follow her in my imagination as she walked out of her dreary dungeon of a life into the passion and light of a life she could own which shows me hope in the possibilities of a future different from the present but as unlike the nightmares of my imagination as rainbows are from oil slicks.

But this was supposed to be about the novel not me. As you can see I am having a difficult time finding an objective stance from which to discuss it without reference to myself and my own life experience. That tends to happen with many of the stories I encounter but seldom as intensely as this one. This was one of those stories that has gone way beyond entertainment into the realm of parable--a teaching story that can show you the way.

What Lori Lansens' Mary has taught me is that waiting for rescue to knock on your door is futile if not dangerous for it likely never will or you may not recognize it as such, seeing only pain and miscarriages of justice instead of alternate paths. Or it may come as a fierce wind that first sucks all you hold dear out of your life, striping you naked of pretense and false persona, forcing you to walk through your own worst nightmare with bloody feet before showing you the way out into a life worth living and not just bearing like a burden, like a heavy weight inside your skin. Either way it requires setting yourself in motion, stepping out of the ruts you have worn in your days, taking one step forward at a time and reaching out to others to both give and receive love and support.

5 tell me a story:

Sheila (Bookjourney) 10/07/2010 5:39 AM  

Fantastic and powerful review. I think you did a fantastic job describing the book and reviewing even with out the book in hand.

You bring up some wonderful points that I had thought about as well.

Mary (Bookfan) 10/08/2010 12:21 PM  

Wonderful review, Joy. I think it's difficult to read this particular novel without identifying in some way - either the weight issue or just being stuck in a situation, you know?

Bonnie Jacobs 10/08/2010 7:56 PM  

Hey Joy Renee! Lori Lansens talked about you and this post in her interview by Sheila (Bookjourney), here:

You may have lots of people dropping by to read this post, which Sheila links in what she wrote for this morning's author interview.

Way to go!

Bailey 10/10/2010 2:09 PM  

This was a powerful review! It's neat how well you connected with Mary.

Anonymous,  10/14/2010 8:02 PM  

What a powerful review. I know just where you are coming from. Luckily I don't have anyone pushing food (most 0f the time), but I am in a rut and can't seem to get myself together enough to pull myself out of it. I keep trying and make a bit more progress all the time. It is so easy to make excuses.
I need to read this book. Every little bit helps.

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