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A Reliable Wife Paperback – January 5, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Set in 1907 Wisconsin, Goolrick's fiction debut (after a memoir, The End of the World as We Know It) gets off to a slow, stylized start, but eventually generates some real suspense. When Catherine Land, who's survived a traumatic early life by using her wits and sexuality as weapons, happens on a newspaper ad from a well-to-do businessman in need of a "reliable wife," she invents a plan to benefit from his riches and his need. Her new husband, Ralph Truitt, discovers she's deceived him the moment she arrives in his remote hometown. Driven by a complex mix of emotions and simple animal attraction, he marries her anyway. After the wedding, Catherine helps Ralph search for his estranged son and, despite growing misgivings, begins to poison him with small doses of arsenic. Ralph sickens but doesn't die, and their story unfolds in ways neither they nor the reader expect. This darkly nuanced psychological tale builds to a strong and satisfying close. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

The Boston Globe described A Reliable Wife as “a historical potboiler, an organic mystery rooted in the real social ills of turn-of-the-century America.” Certainly, the novel’s characters have their share of secrets and motives while illuminating the social milieu of early 20th-century rural Wisconsin and Gilded Age St. Louis. Psychologically driven, the novel boasts an unusual depth of characters and hypnotic, if at times overly sensuous, prose. Indeed, noted the Washington Post, it is “a gothic tale of such smoldering desire it should be read in a cold shower.” A few critics predicted the final twist, but that did not detract from their praise for this riveting novel of love, loss, forgiveness—and human connection.
Copyright 2009 Bookmarks Publishing LLC --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; 1 edition (January 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565129776
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565129771
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,276 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #250,458 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Most of my life has been fairly thoroughly explored in my earlier memoir, THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT. I was born in a small university town in Virginia, a town in which, besides teaching, the chief preoccupations were drinking bourbon and telling complex anecdotes, stories about people who lived down the road, stories about ancestors who had died a hundred years before. For southerners, the past is as real as the present; it is not even past, as Faulkner said.

I went to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and then lived in Europe for several years, thinking that I would be an actor or a painter, two things for which I had a passion that outran my talent. I wrote an early novel, and then my parents disinherited me, so I moved to New York, which is where small-town people move to do and say the things they can't do or say at home, and I ended up working in advertising, a profession that feeds on young people who have an amorphous talent and no particular focus.

Fired in my early fifties, the way people are in advertising, I tried to figure out what to do with the rest of my life, and I came back around to the pastime that had filled the days and nights of my childhood: telling complex anecdotes about the living and the dead. I think, when we read, we relish and devour remarkable voices, but these are, in the end, stories we remember.

I live in a tiny town in Virginia in a great old farmhouse on a wide and serene river with my dog, whose name is Preacher. Since he has other interests besides listening to my stories, I tell them to you.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

209 of 219 people found the following review helpful By Alyssa Donati on March 20, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
as he flung her onto the crimson horsehair settee and ravaged her like a wild dingo. He bathed in her flesh, he scooped it up like rich creamy yogurt until her swarthy lover burst in and brandished a large shotgun. "Release that venomous tart!" He bellowed. "Never! I must have her! I shall devour her completely until only one dazzling amber eyeball remains!"

No, this is not a quote from Goolrick or A Reliable Wife, HOWEVER it could have been.

A reliable Wife is not terrible. There are some beautifully written passages and it does commence with an intriguing plot but unfortunately midway through the book begins to morph into a dime store bodice ripper. Goolrick's protagonist is a miserable aging man who craves sex so much you begin to worry he's going to go completely nuts one day and mount the portly old housekeeper when she's taking out the trash. He winds up advertising for a wife and when she arrives he turns into Charlie Sheen (the new one with the Tiger Blood and porn Goddesses...) From then on the book's plot becomes so preposterous and the sexual encounters so salacious and repetitive it's truly hard to maintain interest. In addition to the bacchanalian sex, the sprawled limbs, the moist loins, the heaving bosoms etc...every character in this novel basically wants to drop dead (that is, if they're not in the middle of intercourse.) Truly, I have never seen so many homicidal, suicidal, morose, pissed off, seething, wretched individuals crammed into one book. So, in summation, if you like watching irate vengeful people savagely engage in coitus and then drop dead, you might like this book.
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480 of 543 people found the following review helpful By K. M. VINE VOICE on March 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
When wealthy businessman Ralph Truitt stood on the icy railroad platform waiting for the late train to deposit his mail order wife-to-be before him, he was expecting a woman of plain appearance with a missionary history; someone who could presumably make his house into a home and who could withstand the pressures of living in a still untamed country. That was what his ad had asked for: a reliable wife. Ralph Truitt was in for a surprise.

When she disembarked the train, Catherine Land's beautiful face didn't match the picture she had sent Truitt and he told her flatly, " ' Maybe you thought I was a fool. You were wrong.' " But a howling storm stopped Ralph from interrogating her there and then. And as the horses drew Truitt's carriage toward his estate in blinding snow, fate stepped in and won this woman a renewed offer to become Mrs. Truitt -- which was what she wanted.

Well, more precisely, she wanted what she intended would follow shortly: widowhood and the inheritance of Truitt's amassed estate. She had brought what she needed to implement her deadly scheme. Possessed of a scandalous past she would keep secret at all costs, Catherine had so much experience with men she was confident she could murder and yet remain emotionally unencumbered.

Ralph was no saint himself, but he carried an ingrained self-flagellating and resigned spirit. "Some things you escape, he thought. Most things you don't, certainly not the cold. You don't escape the things, mostly bad, that just happen to you." Wounds of love and lust had scarred him terribly two decades ago. Now alone and, for all intents and purposes, heirless at fifty-four, Ralph felt despair. He knew it wasn't unique to himself.
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318 of 366 people found the following review helpful By Discriminating Reader on February 17, 2010
Format: Paperback
but I wish they wouldn't. A prosaic, uninspired, embarrassing attempt at literary fiction which falls flat. The writing is overwrought and repetitive, the sentences sound like they come from a second grader ("We've lived the lives we've made. I've lost. You've lost. This memory you have. It was sweet for such a short time. We've behaved badly. To each other. In the world. It's over. We're over. It's got to stop.") - Yikes! The author's favorite word is "languid," which pops up over and over (and over and over). Hey, get a thesaurus.

The plot is thin and boring, the most interesting element in the beginning with the runaway horses episode. Inconsistencies abound. And I just can't care about any of the unlikable one-dimensional characters, whose colors change on every page, sometimes within a paragraph, from absorption-love-desire-regret-bitterness-hate back to bitterness-regret-desire-love-absorption.

Easily, this is in my list of the worst books I have read. As a librarian, I will not be recommending this to my reading public. Don't waste your time - I did, so you don't have to.
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247 of 295 people found the following review helpful By C. L. Burchard on May 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover
After hearing the author interviewed on NPR, I was intrigued and immediately bought the book. I read it in two days, but after a few chapters, I was pulled along by nothing more than a desire to find out what would happen. I disliked the story and the writing at almost every stage. Nothing about the book is believable, least of all the characters' over-the-top "raging" passions. Don't waste your time unless you like "bodice ripper" soap operas.
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189 of 229 people found the following review helpful By Luanne Ollivier TOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
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.
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