Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

A Reliable Wife By Robert Goolrick
304 pages
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.


  1. I'm intrigued by this book...I think I need to get it from the library soon.

  2. This looks like it would be a good book club read. Thanks for posting!

  3. I was considering getting this book the other day. Might have to go back and get it. Thanks for the review. :)

  4. love the groucho quote.
    great blog. i'm following you now. you should check out/follow mine. i've got all things books...

  5. I just put the audio version on my IPOD; thanks for profiling this book!

  6. wait a minute... another 'Mari'.. two commenting to one post! :)

    I'm glad you liked this book, I'm still not sure if I liked it but it has 'stayed' with me. For someone who watches 'You've got Mail' over and over... this was a book I would pick on my own.

    The characters were cold - but I think this was on purpose.

    It's a great BC selection - a lot to discuss!

  7. I've been wanting to read this one for a long time, but I get the feeling that I have to be in the right mood for it and so far, I haven't been.

    I totally agree with you on the character thing. I don't have to like them, but I do have to feel that they are real, real enough to touch and it really helps if I care about what happens to them, whether good or bad.

  8. I'm glad you enjoyed this book. I've seen some pretty possitive reviews for it!