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Hardcover A Reliable Wife Book

ISBN: 1565125967

ISBN13: 9781565125964

A Reliable Wife

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Format: Hardcover

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Book Overview

Rural Wisconsin, 1909. In the bitter cold, Ralph Truitt, a successful businessman, stands alone on a train platform waiting for the woman who answered his newspaper advertisement for "a reliable wife." But when Catherine Land steps off the train from Chicago, she's not the "simple, honest woman" that Ralph is expecting. She is both complex and devious, haunted by a terrible past and motivated by greed. Her plan is simple: she will win this man's devotion,...

Customer Reviews

6 ratings

Not a fan

I had a hard time getting into this book. I didn't finish it.

A fantastic novel... but maybe not for you?

This is a fantastic book. Reviewers have called it a page turner, a gothic romance, a mystery, etc... But if you are expecting any of those, you may find yourself disappointed. "A Reliable Wife" is not at all what you might expect.True, it shares the victorian setting and sometimes flowery writing of great romances and there are facts about the main characters that are withheld so long and carefully that you are nearly drooling to find them out. But, in so many ways, this book subverts the readers expectations making it something more than any genre novel. I have two children, and I was reading them "Little House in the Big Woods" just after I finished "A Reliable Wife," and I could not help comparing the two. Both are set in the cold north and define the lives of the tough people who choose to make their lives there. Little House is an incredible personal story, but it is through the eyes of child, and so it has that childlike acceptance of hardship and optimism about the future. A Reliable Wife on the other hand, is through the eyes of a woman who has had nothing to look forward to for her entire life. Yet her own need to be human, to be loved and wanted, cannot be held down. When it happens, it is so gratifying and yet unexpected. The characters who live in this very proscribed environment have the same sense of dislocation as time travelers: They recognize the world around them, and behave as they should, but their inner lives and their choices seem to be guided by a sensibility that is more modern, and also more insecure, than you would ever expect from their contemporaries. The "family" at the center of the novel bears more resemblance to a reality show family, than to those from Dickens, Bronte, or Hardy. For me, this was really the strength of the novel. The characters are avatars for the reader. They are in a world that THEY are familiar with, yet their thoughts and reactions are ones that WE are familiar with. That contrast is intriguing, and makes the turns of plot visceral, real, and present.. in a way that great novels of the past can do. So much of the genre fiction's appeal comes from the expected turn of events, and the expected behaviour of stock characters. These characters seem to hint at the stereotypes: Wealthy businessman, Ambitious prostitute, Louche Libertine, etc, but then the writer picks away at the stereotypes, page by page... until you are left with real people, riddled with contradictions, self-doubt and self-loathing. They make ridiculously impulsive choices on matters of great importance... and careful plans on matters of no real consequence... the way we all do. This is also a novel that is entirely American. Non-American readers may find it somewhat perplexing, it is not the America of cheerful optimism and generous ambition. Instead it is as though the bleak fatalism of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn were grafted onto the insecure and desperately needy characters of Lars Von Trier. Though Goo

Can Love and Goodness Grow from Two Minds Seething in Hell?

In Robert Goolrick's assured, masterful gothic novel An Assured Wife he portrays Ralph Truitt, a lonely man on the cusp of old age who squandered his father's riches on decadence in his twenties, married an Italian beauty, and after his first wife betrayed him, he gave up on love for decades, instead turning to his business empire in Wisconsin. Truitt is a man possessed by many demons not the least of which is the Puritanism his mother infected him with. There is one excruciating flashback that is prominent in Truitt's psyche: As a child his mother pierced his hand with a pin until the pin penetrated to the bone and his mother said, "This is what Hell is like except that Hell will last forever." Overcome with a self-hatred for his body and its lusts and his tendency to give in to "licentious dissolution," Truitt lives in isolation, his spirit seething with repression and self-loathing. When he can take his loneliness no more and finds himself desperate for a wife for whom he can pour out all his dark confessions, he puts an ad out in the paper for a "reliable wife." The woman who answers his ad, Catherine Land, is a hustler who, raised by an abusive alcoholic father, finds refuge in libraries. Over the years she absorbs thousands and thousands of exotic travel books which have a twofold purpose: They feed her appetite for adventure and opulence. And two they give her the details she needs to tell others lies about herself and to completely re-invent herself; in other words, to make herself in essence a variation of The Great Gatsby. When Catherine Land gets off the train to meet who will be her new husband, we are as readers faced with the question: Can any love or goodness be born from two souls writhing in their hells? That is the novel's suspense and that is what we must find out. This is a dark, sensuous, gothic novel, spare at 290 pages and one of the best contemporary novels I've read in a long time. Readers who enjoy this novel may also want to check out Serena by Ron Rash (its premise has striking parallels to A Reliable Wife and their opening chapters are strangely similar) and Asylum by Patrick McGrath.

Sensual, Riveting, Beautifully written

I really couldn't put this book down. I had read Mr. Goolrick's memoir, and knew he was a good writer, but even so, I was pleasantly surprised by his first novel. I read a lot, but it is only rarely that I connect with a novel to the point that reading it is almost like watching a film. I could see the early 20th century fabrics, visualize the characters so well, hear the chug of a train in the mid-west prairie, see the sensual bedchamber of Antonio, the crack of ice breaking, the look of a sky ready to dump a blizzard of snow, a secret garden transformed, that blue bottle of arsenic, the spare midwest farmhouse, the younger Antonio brutilized by his father. What impressed me the most, was that this book was well written, insightful, AND a rollicking fun good read, with plot twists that I didn't guess before reading.

You CAN rely on this one for sure!

In a recent review in the [...] NEWSLETTER, Robert Goolrick writes that "Life is ambiguous, and goodness is often elusive. It usually takes unexpected and more muddled forms than we had hoped for." These words reverberated with me as I finished Goolrick's A RELIABLE WIFE. Throughout, this gripping and intense novel, molded around three amazingly well-developed character studies, the reader finds the "unexpected" and more "than we had hoped for" or can even imagine. This is a book that captures your attention from page one and doesn't let go even after you complete it. A RELIABLE WIFE will haunt you, make you think, wish for people who have read it to be near by so you can discuss it, and never, never disappoint. A RELIABLE WIFE starts out innocuously as what one might think is a common theme written about before; the early 1900s mail-order bride story. We have seen this in musicals, comedies, fiction and non-fiction. We think we know this story but we are oh so wrong! In the frigid, barren land of Wisconsin in 1907, the story takes on a totally different turn then ever before. As we meet Ralph Truitt waiting at the train station for the lady who has answered his advertisement and whom he has corresponded with, we begin to learn about Truitt. He is sad and tragic, with a dark history when it comes to family and relationships. Meanwhile, on board that incoming train is Catherine Land who will shed her old image, literally throwing it off the train, to arrive set to play the part of the demure, simple woman, dressed appropriately and drab, to meet the man she is to marry. Sewn in her hem are the few baubles and jewels from her past that are her ticket out of Wisconsin should she decide she must leave quickly. In a mishap in the snow with the wagon and horses on the way to Truitt's home, Catherine loses those items and Truitt is injured. So literally, like the horses, the story is off and running. Slowly, like the thin layers of an onion falling off little by little, the characters gradually reveal more about their perverted desires and obsessions. Ralph Truitt is wealthy and the leader in his community. Living through the long and tedious months of snow, gray, and cold, people go mad and in some way, we wonder if Truitt at some point has as well. His past is filled with betrayal and disappointment and he now wants as normal a life with this new woman as might be possible. As we get to know Catherine, her background is hinted at not only by her sudden transformation on the train but by a mysterious blue bottle she covets and hides in her suitcase. She becomes the kind of woman that Ralph Truitt wants according to what she can tell. As their odd and certainly foreign relationship develops, the past of these two characters remains hidden from each other although it is sometimes insinuated. Slowly, Ralph opens up to this "reliable" woman who seems to have the qualities he seeks. They are married following an unconventional courtship, if you can call


I stayed up past my usual time last night, as I couldn't put down Robert Goolrick's latest, A Reliable Wife. I was going to put down my thoughts first thing this morning, but was at a loss to put into words how amazing this book was. It is set in 1907 rural Wisconsin, most of it during the harsh winter. Crime, mental illness and disease seem to be part of the accepted landscape. Goolrick in his end notes cites Michael Lesy's book Wisconsin Death Trip as having a 'profound influence on the structure and genesis of his novel.' The darkness and madness of the surrounding town is referred to often, adding to the overall tone of the novel. Ralph Truit is the patriarch of the town that bears his name. He owns everything and nearly everyone works for him. He has money and power, but not the thing he craves the most, that which he has denied himself for twenty years. Female companionship - a wife. He advertises in a newspaper for ' a reliable wife.' " He had wanted a simple, honest woman. A quiet life. A life in which everything could be saved and nobody went insane." Catherine Land answers that ad, describing herself as 'a simple, honest woman'. Ralph sends for her and she arrives to become his spouse. However Catherine is not quite what she has represented herself to be. "She knew a good deal more about what was to happen than he did." " She knew the end of the story." I don't want to give away any more of the plot. But it is more complicated than it seems at first glance. Two wounded hearts, both longing for what they can't or don't have, bring these two people together, isolated in a small pocket of madness, for better or worse. The story itself is captivating, but it is the language that mesmerized me. Goolrick's writing is raw and powerful. Ralph's discourse on his wants and desires are simply beautiful. Catherine's disquistion on her life, desires and how she came to be what she is, is brutal in it's honesty. I don't know what else to say, other than I was caught up in the story from first to last page. Highly recommended!
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