Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick

Wow, did I need to find this book.

Now, when I say "find," it's not like I had to search or anything. A Reliable Wife piqued my interest when it first came out - I saw a review and added it to my TBR list. I checked a copy out from the library, let it sit forlornly on my shelf while I read other things, and then returned it, unread.

But I haven't been able to get into a real groove about a book recently, so I took the family to Barnes & Noble and we wandered around ... and there it was again, A Reliable Wife. Something about it finally said "READ ME!" so I bought a copy, started reading it in the car, and couldn't put it down for the next two days.

I've been reading a lot of good books, recently - but mostly of the put-downable variety - and was starting to think that maybe I was getting too old to still have that "I have to finish this book if I have to stay up all night to do it" feeling about a book. I don't have it very often, but I think it's less that I'm old and more that finding those books was never easy in the first place.

A Reliable Wife takes place in Wisconsin in 1907. A wealthy man places an ad in the newspaper looking for a wife, and a woman responds, describing herself as "a good, honest woman." She isn't, of course: her plan is to marry him and then poison him, leaving herself a wealthy widow.

The story is delightfully full of unexpected twists, all told in a contemplative, lyrical style full of stunning descriptions of the Wisconsin winter landscape. The beauty and desolation of the setting, both critical to the narrative, are perfectly conveyed: the writing is not rushed, or urgent, but slow-moving and thoughtful, as though the reader, too, was snowbound.

Although the writing feels unrushed, other story elements have an urgency about them that propel the reader through. Sex, for example, features prominently - and not always in a good way - a description of Mr. Truitt's increasing desire ends with, "He wanted to slice her open and lie inside the warm blood of her body." (This is probably a good time to mention that A Reliable Wife is not a book for the prudish or faint of heart.)  

Although it is clear from the outset that all the characters are, in some way, being deceptive, as I reader, I did not feel deceived by the author - I knew the characters were holding back, and the wondering continued as the revelations came forward. By the end, the characters had a marvelous depth to them, filled in as they were by the vibrancy of their individual narratives. Many of the twists I simply never saw coming, even though I knew there was more hidden.

A Reliable Wife is a rare find, probably one of my favorite books so far. 25 books down, 25 to go - bookwise I'm at the halfway mark. 23 more weeks to read!


  1. This really sounds like a good book. I have the audio version (hope the reader is good). Thanks for the helpful review.

  2. wow. sounds great. i have this sitting around somewhere- the publisher actually sent me 3 hardcovers and a paperback, and i haven't rad any of them! the hardcovers are all given away now but I still have the paperback. i'll have to seriously think about reading it now!

  3. Sounds great! I have seen this book around but your review really piques my interest. Way to go on being at the halfway mark!

  4. I was looking at that book at the book store a few weeks ago. It looked really good.


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