A Reliable Wife

Thoughts  A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill 2009, 291 pages hardcover

WHY I READ THIS / NOW:  I had originally placed this on my tbr when it was hot on the blogs. I found it on the library sale rack for $3 and couldn’t resist. It sat on my shelf for 3 years when one of my boating friends said she was going to read it this summer. I enthusiastically declared I would join her. When another boating friend asked me what books to read, I told her A RELIABLE WIFE. She suggested we create a Dock Book Club and so our spontaneous club was formed and this book decided upon. We already have at least 8 boaters committed! Cool, huh?

I was loving the first half and then the chapter on the sister threw me off. Was it necessary for me to know about Alyce? The tone seemed to change, get more sinister and less delicious. I became less enamored of the short flowery sentences and now thought them overwrought.

What happened? Why had the first half hooked me fiercely and the second half leave me ‘meh’?

Well, I’m really not sure. But I decided to give this book 3 stars, an average of the 5 star buildup and the 2 star let down slow ride to the finish.

FIRST SENTENCE:  “It was bitter cold, the air electric with all that had not  happened yet.”

WHAT’s it ABOUT: Taking place in the winter of 1907, mostly in Wisconsin with a few days here and there in Chicago and St. Louis, a very wealthy man named Ralph Truitt places an ad for a wife. Catherine Land applies as a simple honest woman and immediately is confronted as anything but! Boy howdy, is she NOT. She agrees to help Ralph bring his son back home.

Every character is complex and yearns and lusts and desires. And hides and hates and fails to recognize their own despair. This is not a book of sunshine and flowers, though I did love all the flower descriptions at the same time I wondered if it was overkill.

“Love was gone forever, just outside the window, just beyond reach, like fruit on an upper branch.”

This is a complex read. I have been told that it stays with you; no matter if you liked it or disliked it. You will remember it. GREAT CHOICE for a book club. Books that are both loved and hated generate the best discussions. I seem to be on both sides of that!

The ODDITIES:  I was perplexed by the mentions here there and everywhere of everyday violence and outbreaks of madness: fathers killing families, suicides and tragedy. Surely, this little town could not have suffered so. AND THEN FINALLY, at the end of the book, in the BEHOLDEN page which is the author’s Acknowledgements, he mentions being inspired by Michael Lesy’s book Wisconsin Death Trip. I must read this. I think I will have a new appreciation into A Reliable Wife.

“I owe a great deal to Michael Lesy, to his explication of the awful life endured by the mass of people caught between machinery and madness. … (Lesy) unlocks the Pandora’s box of country life to show us its dark and ravaged soul.”

I’m wondering, if I had seen the Lesy book, then read Jill and Ti’s reviews, and THEN read A Reliable Wife, how my experience would be different. Questions which I can never have answered.

“And even though they both knew what the man said was a fiction, Ralph stepped into the dark and opened his arms.”

Reviews in order of high praise to not so much:

Rhapsody Jill’s Review(s)

Ti of BookChatter’s Review

Estelle’s Revenge Review

You’ve Gotta Read This – (argues that you don’t)


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23 thoughts on “A Reliable Wife

      1. I’m reading his second right now…Heading Out to Wonderful. It’s beautifully written, although there’s not a whole lot of forward movement on the plot.

    1. OMG! I was just thinking about you and couldn’t decide if I should comment on a million of your posts that I’ve read but not yet commented on or just write you a postcard…

      I’m glad you liked the book.

  1. It was hot on the blogs, huh? I do wonder how I manage to live in such oblivion sometimes. I’m not sure I’ve even heard of this book before. But hey, now I have! And I’ve now heard of Wisconsin Death Trip, too. Which I think I might like to try first. Oooh, and I just checked and our library system does have a copy. Yay.

    1. Well, it doesn’t take too many blogs for me to assume “it’s EVERYWHERE”. ;P There ARE a lot of book blogs, ya know. Impossible to keep up with the ones I know and adore let alone read them all!

  2. I love your Dock Book Club! I know this was all the rage on blogs a few years ago but a friend of mine, who I trust, didn’t really care for it so I’ve avoided it. I really should read it and make up my own mind.

    1. I know. I kept going back and forth on wanting to read it but was very excited to have it fall into place for our spontaneous book club. It is being well-received.

      Yes, read it for yourself and see what you think.

    1. Yea, I think I know what you mean. I then was more curious why some people are strongly disliking it so that can also motivate me to read something, I admit;

  3. It was very popular with a lot of readers but not everyone loved it. I liked it for the pure nastiness of the characters but a lot of folks didn’t appreciate the fact that it bordered on being a bodice ripper. That was surprising to me, how much sex was in it but cold winters and a warm bed yada yada.

    I also liked that I read it AFTER all the hype had passed. I shy away from hype whenever possible because I do think it affects my overall opinion of the book.

    As I mentioned in a comment to you, I kept comparing her to Cathy from East of Eden. She is very similar to that character and I wouldn’t be surprised if giving her the same name was intentional on the author’s part.

  4. It’s too bad the finish couldn’t be as good as the start. I had this one on my Kindle but never read it and have since gifted the Kindle to my mom and never gotten around to thinking about reading it again. Sounds like I can wait a little longer!

  5. This book is in my half-read pile. I started it, but wasn’t totally absorbed and then something new and flashy came along and I abandoned this one with the intention of going back. Been months now. I’ll probably have to start over. Nice to hear it’s not just me that wasn’t totally sold, but I’ll probably still try to finish it at some point.

  6. 5 star start and 2 star finish? YIKES!!!! I’ve heard really good things about this one and the author but it really hasn’t grabbed my attention yet. Keep seeing it for cheap at Half Price Books, though…

  7. I side with those who really liked this one. It definitely was dark, but I felt like it was dark throughout. The parts where it got overly into the sex felt like the flaw to me; I thought it was much more than necessary. But I suppose that and the part about Alyce were needed to explain Catherine and to make her more understandable.

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