Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"It was bitter cold, the air electric with all that had not happened yet."

I almost quit reading A Reliable Wife after the first fifty pages or so. I thought the transitions between character stories were choppy and unbalanced and the backstory seemed repetitive. The characters weren't likable so I didn't really care what happened to them. I wasn't sure why Robert Goolrick's book was a bestseller at all -- and then I got caught up in the story and pushed through to the end.

Ralph Truitt is a wealthy Wisconsin businessman who is missing only one thing in his life -- a wife. He had one twenty years before but she died and Truitt never remarried. Now he feels the need for the closeness of marriage in his life so he places an ad in a major newspaper -- "Country businessman seeks reliable wife". Among the responses is one from Catherine Land which starts "I am a simple honest woman". Along with a homely photograph, Catherine's letters make her seem like the perfect choice for Truitt. He is disappointed then when she arrives and is not, in fact, homely but rather beautiful. He would be even more disappointed if he knew she had a small bottle of arsenic in her bag and plans to kill Truitt for his money.

I definitely think the writing improved as the book progressed which was why I was able to stick with it. The characters became more complex though I'm not sure I could say that they improved. Still, it was enough of a transition to make the book readable again. For me, the book was really redeemed only within the last few pages. I liked Goolrick's method of closure to this complex and dark story and my impression of the entire novel was raised in the final moments of reading.

But what really intrigued me was his one page tribute at the end of his story to a book called Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy. This book inspired Goolrick's story with its portrayal of the bleak and violent Wisconsin winters. This was the part of the novel that brought the sensational plot back down to Earth -- although to no Earth where I would want to live. Still, it is the specificity of the setting that really makes this an American Gothic tale. As you have probably noticed, I have very mixed feelings about this book so I will leave the decision to read it or not fully up to each of you!

Determined to live my life in sunshine,

Support our site and buy A Reliable Wife on Amazon or find it at your local library. We received our copy unsolicited from the publisher.


  1. The descriptions of the landscape were some of the most compelling things about this novel. I was kind of hesitant about it at first but I liked it by the end, definitely. The book he mentioned in his afterward is on my list though - and I think I'll like it just as much if not more (:

  2. Looking forward to reading this book. Thanks for the interesting review.

  3. I'm really glad I've read this. I got this through Library Thing's review program and I've tried twice but find myself having a hard time getting into it. I feel bad as they keep sending me reminders that I need to review it, but I just haven't been able to. I think I'll pick it back up and try again. The prose is very different at the beginning, isn't it? Almost too much, though when Catherine is introduced to the story it does become more interesting. At least it's a short book, too!

  4. Lena - I totally agree!

    Diane - I will wait for your review!

    Danielle - Hopefully you can get going with this one. I think it took three or four chapters to settle into the real pacing of the story. Good luck!

  5. I somehow missed this review back when you posted it and after your comment on my blog I was curious to see what you had to say.

    I agree that it was difficult to get into, but in the end I enjoyed it. Once the characters started to get fleshed out, I wanted to keep reading to find out what was going to happen.

  6. Claudia - It's true. You get caught up in this one!