A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
Review by Kate Shaw
A fascinating, unexpected debut novel that examines the dark nature of humanity in the face of illness and loneliness. The book describes the rich landscape of 1907 Wisconsin and delves into how the harsh winters can affect the people of a small isolated town. Imagine Ralph Truitt’s surprise when Catherine Land steps off the train. Ralph, the wealthiest man in town, has placed an ad in the newspaper for “A Reliable Wife” and Catherine does not match the photograph she sent.
The book chronicles the uneasy start of Catherine and Ralph’s marriage. The reader comes to find that Catherine’s certainly not the pure, faithful woman she claims to be. Ralph, too, proves more than he appeared at first sight and encourages Catherine to help him locate his estranged son. The story escalates when Catherine begins to slowly poison her husband, allowing the reader to gain insight to the tortured thoughts of a conflicted woman.
I found A Reliable Wife an interesting character study with each player deeply developed. They are not entirely likable, but each character is real, with histories and intricacies that make them both believable and endearing. I also enjoy how Goolrick turned color into a character all its own, with beautiful descriptions. Woven into the main plot the reader finds fascinating vignettes of how easily “cabin fever” can turn to madness. Especially in small towns cut off from society in winter. This book is not for the faint of heart; though dark and sometimes sad, but the conclusion is satisfying. I would recommend this title for the reader who doesn’t mind desperate and truly flawed characters.
Review by Michele Bolay
I really liked the way Goolrick evoked the insularity of small towns and the hopelessness and despair of the characters. Their loneliness really resonated with me. Lest all of that make this sound like a dreary, dull read, let me assure you that’s it is most emphatically NOT. It’s suspenseful and the writing incredibly vivid. It constantly evokes sights, smells, touch, sounds, tastes, and teems with sensuality and desire in their truest forms. It’s the kind of writing that makes me want to reach for a highlighter or read passages aloud to the person next to me.
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About the reviewers: Kate Shaw read A Reliable Wife for her first ever book club book. The other members of the book club had expected a sweet romance (despite the fact that the back cover clearly states that Catherine poisons Ralph). Though no one else did, Kate loved the book and she never went back to that book club again. She now moderates Read It & Steep at the library.
Michele Bolay has been working for the children’s department at TPL for 25 years and loves books for grown ups and for children.