A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick (2009)

Although I have never heard of this novel, nor of its author, when I read a short review of it in our library’s newsletter, I was intrigued enough to pick up a copy. Goolrick’s novel is a dreamy, mysterious story told with rich, ornate language that is beautiful even when it tells terrible tales.

The story begins on a snowy October night in rural Wisconsin, where two strangers meet for the first time before their arranged marriage. Both Ralph Truitt and Catherine Land have dark and angry pasts, their agreement to wed one another is born not out of love, but out of need. They claim their desire to marry is for companionship, but soon both Ralph and Catherine reveal shadowy, ulterior motives. His motives include a desperate need for sex and companionship, but he also needs Catherine to be a pawn in a complex plan to repair familial rift. It is his hope that by finally unburdening his past sins and lies to his new wife he can use her to right wrongs done in his youth, so that he will be able to begin a new life.

Catherine’s initial motivation for accepting Ralph’s offer of marriage is to achieve financial security and to have a chance to marry despite her advancing age. As the book progresses, she is exposed as much greedier and more desperate then Ralph could ever guess. Indeed, there is no end to her deceptions, which reveal themselves to readers one thin layer at a time. Just when it begins to feel that she has shown us her true self, she unveils yet another deceit.

Just when Catherine’s is within reach of concluding her dark plans, she has moment of crisis, wondering whether the she is willing to throw away a second chance at life with Ralph. Can she bring her schemes to a close, even though it means she will be denying herself a safe and comfortable life, a life she could never have imagined when she answered his ad for “a reliable wife?”

Goolrick’s novel is filled with gorgeous prose that tells readers complicated stories of love, passion, sex, revenge, and redemption. In addition to the lush storytelling and his well-drawn characters, also notable are his rich descriptions of the time, the beginning of the twentieth century, and the settings: both the wild, windswept, frozen lands of Wisconsin and the seedy, ragged cityscapes of Chicago and St. Louis.




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