Monday, September 5, 2011

REVIEW: A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

 Wealthy businessman Ralph Truitt places an ad in a Chicago paper asking for "a reliable wife".  Of his many responders he chooses Cathrine Land who describes herself as a simple woman.  It is 1907 and she is soon on a train to join Ralph for her new life in rural Wisconsin.  Her plan: to marry Ralph, slowly poison him and become a wealthy widow who is able to live a life of leisure with her true love.  Ralph has more planned for Catherine than just wifely duties though.  Each pursues their own agenda with unexpected consequences: they fall in love.  A Reliable Wife is a novel of passion and betrayal set in the wilds of Wisconsin and the bustling city of Saint Louis.

This book was not what I expected at all.  It was much darker than I anticipated.  Ralph Truitt has some demons in his past-one of which is driving away his only son. After long years of searching he has finally located him and wants Catherine to convince him to come home.  Catherine is determined to play the part of the good wife.  She too has a checkered past and sees killing off her new hubby as the fastest way to a comfortable life.  As she and Ralph get to know each other her conscience plagues her because she realizes Ralph is a good man and maybe her original plan is not the best one after all.

The premise of this book was interesting but I have to say I didn't care much for the execution.  Goolrick has a gift for taking the story in a direction I never expected it to go which is what compelled me to keep reading but that doesn't mean the story got any better because of these twists in the plot.

First problem:  Goolrick continually makes references throughout of the madness that abounds in the wilds of Wisconsin.  A mother drowns all her children.  A farmer cuts the heads off all of his livestock.  A man saws off his hand. These things happen.  No, really-that is the explanation given. These things happen.  I'm not quite sure what the author was going for here but if it was making me scratch my head as to why these disturbing things were included in the book other than to make an already odd story even more odd then-mission accomplished!

Second problem: I know the book is set in 1907 and it probably does get pretty lonely in the Wisconsin wilderness but every single character in this book is ruled by their sex drive.  Ralph cannot let a moment go by without picturing his neighbors getting naked with each other.  Catherine can think about nothing but her next encounter with her lover (or with Ralph since he is her husband).  Antonio, the wayward son, seems to have bedded the entire population of St. Louis.  Catherine's sister Alice is a whore who is perfectly ok with the fact that eventually she is going to die penniless in the streets.  These characters think of nothing else and their every decision somehow leads back to sex.  It is not vulgar or graphic but the encounters are so numerous it became way too much.  Who in real life thinks like that?  No one that I know which makes the characters really unrealistic.

Both Ralph and Catherine's pasts are explained in the course of the book and neither is very pretty.  Of the two though I think Catherine ends up being worse and Ralph does not deserve what he goes through in this book. I am giving this three fleurs but only because of it's ability to surprise me when I didn't expect it.  I would give this a pass otherwise.  If you are bound and determined to read this book be warned that you will probably get sucked into reading it until the end and then kicking yourself that you didn't toss it and read something else.

 This book is from my own personal library.


  1. It was a shame that this story was so dark. I could not finish it.


  2. I really liked your review and totally agree with it. It was very dark and I really did not like it at all either.

  3. I listened to this on audiobook and didn't like it one bit. I agree, all they think of is sex, sex, sex! The longing, the flesh, the passion, the pleasure, blah, blah, blah. A waste of my time, I can't understand the rave reviews. It was embarrassing, as if the author was so enraptured with his own thoughts and desires he had to put them down in print for posterity. I found it sounded like the fantasies of a sexually frustrated teenage boy. If I had read it in print I would not have finished it.

  4. I was so excited for this book and I have it on my shelf but maybe I will wait to read it (or maybe eventually pass). Thanks for the review tho!

  5. I too have this book on my TBR but I've put it off based on all the reviews about the excessive focus on sex. Having spent some of my formative years in South Dakota, I can appreciate the loneliness and madness-inducing spaces of the prairie but...non-stop sex emphasis is kind of tiresome. Solid review -- thanks for sharing!

  6. A very thoughtful review! I read this one awhile back so it's not completely fresh in my mind, but I really liked it. It IS dark and creep and weird, but something drew me in.

    The Musings of ALMYBNENR.