By Robert Goolrick
Published April 2009 by Algonquin Press
Ralph Truitt has lead a hard life with a father who is more interested in raising an heir to his fortune than a son and a mother is a religious zealot who makes it clear that she does not love him. Nothing since then has served to make him a happier person. So, as this story begins, he is waiting for the arrive of a woman who has answered his ad for a reliable wife. He has long since given up on finding love in his life, but he needs a wife to help him bring his estranged son home. Catherine Land, who is responding to his ad, is a devious woman, motivated by greed and with a dark past. She is coming to Wisconsin to marry Ralph, slowly poison him and leave Wisconsin a wealthy widow. But Ralph is a more compassionate man than Catherine was expecting and Catherine begins to bring out feelings in Ralph that he had thought he was incapable of having any longer.
The story is unique, Goolrick's writing terse but descriptive. As Ralph is waiting for Catherine's train, I could feel the cold wind stinging his cheeks. It's easy to envision the people of Truitt, WI, Catherine's clothing, Truitt's homes.
After reading several books recently that I didn't enjoy, in part because I didn't like any of the characters, Goolrick reminded me here that liking the characters is not a requisite for liking the book. Goolrick gives his characters fully fleshed out backgrounds that help the reader to understand their actions even as you are appalled by them. Because of this, the reader is able to hold onto a hope for the characters to become better people, to make better lives for themselves.
Despite the bitter winter setting, this is a story of lust and passions. As such, there is a great deal of description of the fulfillment of these passions that some readers may find uncomfortable to read. I wasn't uncomfortable with it, but I did feel like there was too much of it. Likewise, Goolrick could become repetitive and often ran on too long in his descriptions of motives, feelings and thoughts. All of that I was able to overlook because thought the story was wonderful. There were twists and turns I didn't see coming and I had no idea how this book was going to end until the final paragraph. I read this book as part of a book club and, honestly, was not sure that I would like it. Having lower expectations made my enjoyment of the book a very pleasant surprise.
For the book club's discussion of this book and an interview with Robert Goolrick, click here. You can read a review from Mari, from Bookworm With A View, as well as more answers from Goolrick here. Gayle, of Everyday I Write the Book, posted her review here.