The novel opens with Mary Gooch on the cusp of celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary. She married her high school sweetheart but they've drifted apart over the years. And the losses, personal, professional, have manifested in her psychological and physical self. Borderline agoraphobic (she still leaves the house) and morbidly obese, Mary has tightened up her life in such a way that it couldn't be any smaller. Her menial job at the pharmacy in town is a means to an end (and a chocolate delivery) and her husband Gooch's isn't much more satisfying. Once a golden boy, Gooch isn't apparently unsatisfied with his life, but when he disappears leaving nothing behind but a fat bank account, Mary must face life for the first time alone.
In a way, it's a novel of discovery for Mary, a long, rambling Chaucer-like adventure that transforms her in ways she never would have imagined. The narrative keeps tight to Mary: you're on the edge when Gooch doesn't come home, you feel her pain when she finds herself completely lost without him, and when she takes the steps towards becoming her own person you can't help but cheer her on. Lansens has a way of writing this character, this woman who could be the butt of so many jokes, without any caricature. While she may come from a small town, she's not a hick; she's not a stereotype, and her transformation is kind of movie-esque magical.
There are unsatisfying elements to the story that I'm not going to spoil here. I'm going to leave off with my first impressions of this book, remembered now a month after reading: it takes a hell of a writer to take such a Hollywood plot, "woman abandoned on her 25th anniversary, obese, unsatisfied and unhappy" and turn it into moments that bring tears to your eyes for their honesty, originality and utter good-heartedness.
READING CHALLENGES: I'm counting The Wife's Tale as the second book in my Canadian Book Challenge. While I haven't done my "official" post about the theme I'm going to try just yet because I honestly haven't decided what I want to read for the rest of the year, I still think a year that includes The Wife's Tale and February can only be counted as inspiring.