A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
Release date: March 31, 2009
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill - Suspense/Historical Fiction
I finished A Reliable Wife about 2 weeks ago and have found it difficult to review. So . . . guess what? Self-interview time!
Me: Tell us a little about A Reliable Wife.
Myself: Must I?
Me: Okay, fine. I can do it, instead.
I: Wahoo! I'm always looking for opportunities. A Reliable Wife is about a very lonely man named Ralph Truitt, a wealthy Wisconsin business owner who desperately desires to live his latter years with a companion. Having placed an advertisement asking for "simple honest woman", Ralph corresponds with Catherine Land, then selects her and sends a train car to pick her up. But, Catherine is not at all what she claimed to be in her letters. Catherine's plan is to gain Truitt's confidence, poison him and then leave Wisconsin a wealthy widow.
Ralph is also a man with a troubled past and an ulterior motive. In a land where people go mad from endless months of frigid winter weather, what will become of two people who already harbor hidden pain and twisted pasts? The story takes place during the winter of 1907/08.
Me: That wasn't bad. Did you cheat and use the cover blurb?
I: I borrowed the "simple honest woman" bit. The rest is mine.
Me: So, what did you like about this book?
I: The first 50 pages and about the last 25-50.
Me: Specifically, what about those sections appealed to you?
I: The first 50 pages were absolutely mesmerizing. The characters were just mysterious enough to yank this reader right into the story and there's some compelling action and character development at the beginning. We'll discuss the ending, later.
Me And, what about the pages in-between?
I: After about page 50, the story pivoted a little and went deeper into characterization, delving into the horrors that caused Ralph and Catherine to become greedy, obsessive, single-minded, yucky people. Really, the characters are just horrid, with one exception: Ralph Truitt's housekeeper. Ralph believes himself to be evil and is sexually obsessed. I think it would give away too much to mention Catherine's past life, although it unfolds rapidly.
Me: Why didn't you give up on the book?
I: I honestly read the entire book on the strength of the first 50 pages. Also, the author plays a little tug-of-war with the reader and I confess . . . I'm gullible enough that he succeeded. One minute, I thought Catherine might not be so bad after all, and the next minute I was convinced that she was a unreformably cold, heartless, evil person. It was partly the desire to know how things would end up that kept me going.
Me: And, what about the ending?
I: The ending was what I'd hoped for, all around. I can't say the book was predictable because it's almost as if the characters couldn't figure out how to be honest, even with themselves. They were so totally bent that their inner thoughts were rambling and complex.
Me: Anything else worth mentioning?
I: Yes, I thought Ralph had the most believable motivation for hating Christianity that I've ever read. I get irritated with characters who are described as having rejected God or their religion (not necessarily Christianity) for no apparent reason.
I: It depends entirely upon the reader. I tend to dislike dark, dreary novels that focus on negative characterization but I think this particular novel is about redemption: specifically, the idea that some people desire redemption and some don't -- and, one must choose to alter his or her inner self to find redemption. The question may very well be, "Is it ever too late to change?" And, I think the author did a pretty good job of answering that question. The problem is that he does a lot of yanking the reader around in the process. A Reliable Wife is at times graphically violent and sexual -- lots and lots and lots of rambling inner monologue and scenes depicting sex. It's not family friendly. But, I think people who like literature and don't mind obsession and dark, haunted characters might enjoy it.
Me: No more questions, Your Honor.
I: May I step down from the bench?
Me: Yes, but be sure not to leave town.
Many thanks to Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill for the chance to read this book! Coming up next will be a review of Talk of the Town by Lisa Wingate. Then . . . who knows? I've hardly read a word for the past two weeks. I hate it when that happens, don't you?