Jeff's Reviews > A Reliable Wife

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
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1911555
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Jan 19, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: contemporary-literature
Read in January, 2011

** spoiler alert ** Here was a book for which I liked the idea of reading much better than the actual novel. Goolrick gives us an account of Ralph Truitt, a turn of the century industrial tycoon from Wisconsin, and Catherine Land, the woman who answers Truitt's personal ad for a "reliable wife". The back cover of the book promised intrigue and murder, ominously hinting that the "lonely Ralph Truitt had a plan of his own". Sounds interesting, right?

Not really.

This book had all of the elements of a great one, and that's why I'm being a little hard on it now. There were flashes of brilliance; obviously Goolrick can write. Overall, though, for what could have been an in-depth, mind-bender type of thriller, perhaps even a top-notch psychological thriller, the reader is given page after page of laborious description for minimal action. It was almost 30 pages in before the first real action occurred.

Furthermore, the author teetered on spending too much time crafting the small details, but seemingly glossed right over the major events in the book. We learn in the matter of one page that Catherine and Antonio had jointly hatched the plot to kill Truitt. We learn in a matter of two sentences that Larson cut off his hand. Parts of the book read like a list poem when Goolrick tried to depict the thought of "things just happen".

But then again, there were very eloquent sections that left the reader longing for that type of prose. The exchange between Catherine and Antonio at the end of Part II was straight out of a play - well written, easy to which to relate, and easy to visualize - indeed the reader could almost empathize with the characters at that point. (Thanks to Dave Brown for the "out of a play" idea.)

Goolrick dabbled with the theme of a sort of insanity thanks to the long Wisconsin winters. This theme could have added an interesting element to Truitt and Catherine's relationship. It could have provided a context for the horrible things that the characters were doing. Goolrick's theme of redemption and forgiveness is obviously present but made to feel so ordinary that the reader dismisses it as a potentially-central premise of the book. Perhaps the most successful theme is the pervasive power of love, even when one doesn't want to give in to it. Catherine's realization of her love for Truitt, built on the simplicity of daily companionship and comfort, is a nice contrast to the blinding love Truitt felt for Emilia, the maternal love Mrs. Larson felt for Truitt, and the intoxicating, passionate love Antonio came to feel for Catherine.

I wanted to like this book...I really did. I nominated it for my book club. I liked the cover, the feel of the book, the promise made by the back flap, the teaser quotes from the expert. But I just couldn't fall in love with the book.
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