May 14, 10
Read in January, 2010
** spoiler alert **
Ralph Truitt is desperately alone. At the age of 58, he has already lived nearly a lifetime of disappointments. From the mother who was cruel to him as a small child, to the wife who humiliated and betrayed him, to the beautiful daughter who died as a child. 20 years of solitude has brought him to the start of this novel. On a cold November day in Wisconsin in 1907, Truitt – the richest man in town – waits at the train station for his mail order bride. A plain woman with simple needs, with whom he hopes he will finally find some small happiness and peace.
Of course, the woman who steps off that train is not what Truitt had expected. Catherine Land is neither plain, nor simple. She’s a beautiful woman with plans of her own, and a great deal to hide.
Having just finished A Reliable Wife, I can’t quite decide if I liked it or not. The first half of the novel held me completely enthralled. The writing style is very good. Unique, poetic, and compelling. He really takes you inside the heads of his main characters in a way that makes you really understand and sympathize with them, even when their actions are horrible. These are human beings, and they aren’t pretty. But they all have needs, and the the author makes us understand that.
But then about halfway through the major mystery of the novel is solved. The novel then becomes one long inexorable decent into madness and despair, and as I was reading that part, I often just wanted it to be over. There is some let up toward the end when Catherine decides she just cannot do what she set out to do, and we think for just a bit that it’s all going to get better now, a little lighter. But then of course it doesn’t, because that’s not the kind of story this is.
The end of the book is satisfying, if not exactly happy. Really there’s little happiness to be had in this novel. And there’s plenty of horror to go around, with an extra unnecessary helping thrown in here and there where we are given terrible glimpses into the lives of some of the minor characters. Really, did that guy who seemed all right have to go crazy and cut his arm off for no reason? Did that widow have to hang herself from the same rafter that her husband hung himself, leaving her baby alone to cry until the neighbors came along to find her?
So, this book is well-written, and certainly different, but not for the faint of heart.