A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
Finished: Jul. 31 2009
First Published: Mar. 16, 2009
Genre: gothic, historical fiction
It was bitter cold, the air electric with all that had not happened yet.
Reason for Reading: The description of the book intrigued me: the time period, the small town, gothic atmosphere and I always take a second look at "mail order bride" stories from the 19th cent. and this was close enough. I received a Review Copy from Harper Collins Canada.
Comments: Ralph Truitt, 54, is a wealthy owner of the manufacturing business that employs most of the population of a small town in Midwestern Wisconsin. A widower of twenty years he places an Ad for "a reliable wife" and after a certain amount of correspondence a ticket is sent and Catherine arrives to become his wife. Both parties have deep dark secrets and alternative reasons for embarking on this marriage of convenience. Mr. Truitt soon comes clean and spills his soul to Catherine, before the wedding, telling the tale of his past and his ultimate purpose for her to perform as his wife. Catherine, on the otherhand, keeps her own past a carefully hidden secret and goes to great lengths not to have her devious intentions become known.
This is a hard review for me to write because as I was reading the book I started off not liking it, then I would be ok with it, then I did not like it and back and forth until the ending chapters which were tense and hard to put down. Whether I liked it or not, the plot kept me reading and at no point after "Part One" did I think of putting the book down.
"Part One" had me thinking I'd made a big mistake with this book and that it was just going to be romantic drivel. I do not read pure romance books and found myself rolling my eyes and hoping something more than two people hating each other, having constant conflict, then secretly falling in love and finally admitting they love each other was going to happen. Fortunately, that was not this book and much more did happen.
The plot is intriguing; it goes places one doesn't expect. Both Catherine and Ralph are very complex characters though their personalities and actions did not leave me caring much about either of them. I had no concern as to whether either of them had a happy ending though I was intrigued as to what happened to them, if that makes sense. The greatest theme running through the book is that of Ralph who has confessed and is now accepting and living his life as penance for his past life of lust, violence and lack of family commitment. Catherine's life is similar, though she is at a different stage.
One thing that bothered me was the s*x. There was lots of it. Not graphic, but what I would call descriptive and it really wasn't that, that bothered me but the constant presence of it. If the main characters were not having s*x, they were thinking about past encounters or fantasizing about present encounters and future encounters. When not doing any of those they would imagine the s*x lives of the people they passed on the street or drive by houses and wonder what s*x took place within those buildings. Not that this was a past time they did together, it was simply something within each of them that they naturally thought about all the time when they were alone. It was really overkill for me.
As I've said, even though there are certain parts of the book that I did not like or that annoyed me, the plot is intriguing and meaningful. Characters are not likeable but are compelling. I'm glad to have read it. I would also most likely read another book by the author if the subject matter interested me. He does recommend a photographic book to read in his note at the end which I have put in an ILL request for which he based his atmosphere on in this book: the long, seemingly non-ending Wisconsin winters that seemed to drive people at the end of the nineteenth century to a certain kind of madness.
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