Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Reliable Wife

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2009
Hardcover, 291 pages
ISBN-13: 9781565125964

He placed a notice in a Chicago paper, an advertisement for "a reliable wife." She responded, saying that she was "a simple, honest woman." She was, of course, anything but honest, and the only simple thing about her was her single-minded determination to marry this man and then kill him, slowly and carefully, leaving her a wealthy widow, able to take care of the one she truly loved.
What Catherine Land did not realize was that the enigmatic and lonely Ralph Truitt had a plan of his own. And what neither anticipated was that they would fall so completely in love.
Filled with unforgettable characters, and shimmering with color and atmosphere, A Reliable Wife is an enthralling tale of love and madness, of longing and murder.

My Thoughts:
A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick is a moody gothic tale set in 1907 to 1908. Ralph Truitt, a fifty-four year old wealthy business man from rural northern Wisconsin has advertised for a reliable wife. Catherine Land has answered his personal ad. Catherine is not the simple daughter of a missionary that she claims to be, but circumstances lead them to marry anyway; as the story says repeatedly: "These things happened."
In the novel, Ralph is very aware that the winters in Wisconsin are cold, bleak, and depressing - a setting that compels people to commit horrendous, violent acts in desperation. Goolrick does an admirable job setting the dark tone to the novel and the psychological torment the characters are going though. Neither character is precisely what they appear to be. Both of them hold their own dark secrets and reasons for wanting to marry.
Although I found parts of the plot of A Reliable Wife predictable, the quality of Goolrick's writing does elevate the book above the ordinary. He has a real gift for setting a mood and elevating the tension between the characters. The longing and sexual tension is palatable in his very real, complex characters. These characters want: they want love; they want to escape; they want redemption; they want hope - but they don't feel they are worthy of any of it.
I'm going to have to admit that I found the pacing of A Reliable Wife uneven and inconsistent. At times I did feel a compulsion to read on until I hit parts where it felt flat and repetitious. And, as I mentioned, the plot itself offered no great surprise. It was certainly worth reading. 
highly recommended
It was bitter cold, the air electric with all that had not happened yet. opening
Ralph Truitt checked his silver watch. Yes, the train was late. The eyes around him were staring silently; they knew. He had counted on the train being on time today. To the minute, he had told them. He ordered punctuality that way another man might order a steak cooked to his liking. Now he stood like a fool with everybody watching. And he was a fool. He had failed at even this small thing. It would come to nothing, this last small spark of hope. pg. 4
Some things you escape, he thought. Most things you don't, certainly not the cold. You don't escape the things, mostly bad, that just happen to you. The loss of love. The disappointment, the terrible whip of tragedy. pg. 5-6
You can live with hopelessness for only so long before you are, in fact, hopeless. He was fifty-four years old, and despair had come to Ralph as an infection, without his even knowing it. He could not pinpoint the moment at which hope had left his heart. pg. 8
Love and money. She could not believe that her life, as barren and as aimless as it had been, would end without either love or money. pg. 17
But this woman was not expected. He was angry. He was confused. He had read her letter until it fell apart in his hands. He had looked at her picture a thousand times. Now it was clear she wasn't the woman in the photograph, and he had no idea who she might be. pg. 31
Her true heart was buried so far inside her, so gone beneath the vast blanket of her lies and deceptions and whims. Like her jewels now beneath the snow, it lay hidden until some thaw might come to it. She had no way of knowing, of course, whether this heart she imagines herself to have was, in fact, real in any way. pg. 49
Learning became her. She loved the smell of the books from the shelves, the type on the pages, the sense that the world was an infinite but knowable place. Every fact she learned seemed to open another question, and for every question there was another book. pg. 170


raidergirl3 said...

Congrats on the new job! And look, a review posted already. You just do what you can, when you can, and keep it fun.

I have A Reliable Wife home to read during the summer, and I hope to get to it very soon. I'll come back and see if I agree with your assessment when I'm done.

Lori L said...

I'll be looking for your review, Raidergirl! The job will get interesting tomorrow - when the students actually start school!

raidergirl3 said...

Oh, what grade?

I don't start back to school until September 1, and then the students arrive on the Tuesday after Labour Day.

Lori L said...

Elementary school, K-5th!

Audra said...

I've seen mixed reviews of this one but I still picked it up -- I'm saving it for a good grey autumn day because I do love a good gothic!

Lori L said...

Audra, A Reliable Wife would be a great winter novel... the season would enhance the atmospheric setting.