Saturday, March 06, 2010

A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick

I caved! The red dress on the cover of Robert Goolrick's A Reliable Wife was too much ! Aside from the fact that the poor woman is headless (I'll save that rant), that is one kickass red dress. And it's my favorite red (my cell phone is that color, iPod, bedroom decor, etc.).

But enough about my shallow book picking methods.

I read the blurb ahead of time, and I even downloaded a preview for my Nook, but it seems that I still went into this book not really grasping what it was about. I knew it was about a "mail order" bride situation in snowy Wisconsin. That's about it, and that's probably a good thing. I think I have better luck with books if they simply get to unfold as I read rather than hearing or reading too much about them on the front end.

Let's start with what I liked about A Reliable Wife: the writing. Goolrick definitely has a way with his turn of phrase. In one portion of the book, Ralph and Catherine move house from a small farmhouse on his property to an Italian mansion he'd built for his deceased wife. The descriptions of the house: furnishings and decor, architecture, and Catherine's vision for the garden, were stunning and rich and opulent. I marked some passages I'll post later. I didn't bring the book to school with me on this early snow makeup day, but the passages really are worth sharing.

Unlike the last book I reviewed, which was largely about plot, A Reliable Wife is character driven and slow at times, though that never really turned me off. To give a brief synopsis of the characters...the rich widower, Ralph Truitt, advertises for a "reliable wife" and in steps Catherine Land. Catherine and Ralph both have troubled pasts and all hell breaks loose--emotionally, sexually, etc.--when they get together. In short, and without ruining anything for you, Catherine is armed with a bottle of arsenic and plans to poison Ralph slowly and enjoy his fortune. Goolrick did a great job setting this book during a Wisconsin winter because the story takes on an atmosphere of claustrophobia. The characters don't have a whole lot to do except sit around and think, and we're privvy to those thoughts in all their gory detail. I also enjoyed the complexity of the characters. Not Catherine so much, but Ralph is an interesting guy with some surprising thoughts about his new "reliable wife." He's savvier than she gives him credit for, and he's a lot more forgiving of some of her shortcomings than I would've been.

So now for what I didn't like. Goolrick writes longggg rambling passages about sexual escapades and desires which, at times, I wished had just stayed in the characters' heads. Given, Ralph has been without any lovin' for about 20 years, so I'm not surprised that he's a bit frustrated, but COME ON. There were so many ruminations on sex from all the characters that it got really old. The sex was about as exciting as an OB visit, let me just put it that way.

Overall, despite having some quibbles, I was happy with this one. I read it in two days, which just goes to show that it sucked me in and didn't let go. Now I've picked up The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I'm not far in, so I have no idea how it'll go, but I'm hoping for more good luck!

FTC: It was from the library. Didn't even have the cover I like so much.


  1. Great review Andi. I have been wanting to read this I'm glad u enjoyed it!

  2. Dawn mentioned something similar about all the sex scenes. Sounds like a guy wrote it!

    The cover looks like it would work for Anna know, with the train lurking in the background.

  3. I know this one's gotten a lot of rave reviews, but a friend of mine told me she thought it was like a soap opera. Maybe she was talking about all those sex scenes.

  4. Nice review. I've been on the fence about this one for a while but it sounds like it's worth trying at least (despite the tiresome sex-scenes).

  5. I've just got a copy of this book, so I'm sad to hear that it had a lot you didn't like in it. I'm not a fan of sex scenes in a book, so perhaps I'll just skim over those. At least it didn't take you too long to read. I look forward to finding out if I agree with you.

  6. I think you liked this one better than I did, although we seemed to have the same feelings, in general: amazing writing, ridiculously overdone focus on internal monologues (especially regarding sex). I liked the first 50 pages best.

  7. I've been waiting for your review, and I agree. I almost put the book down, especially because of Ralph's stupid erotic daydreams. In the end, I couldn't put it down, but I think this was during my extended sickness with flu/cold/crud/whatever.

    I was disappointed that I guessed about the subplot. If you want to discuss my email is lisgitt AT gmail DOT com.

    PS I've been having computer issues. Hopefully, I can finally comment.

  8. I recently acquired a copy of this one and plan to read it one day. Thank you for the heads up about the sex. Those are the kinds of things that can drive me batty (in a bad way) if I am not prepared for them.

  9. I also sometimes do better without knowing too much about the plot and I sort of like it that way. I have to say I have started this twice and what has put me off is the incessant thoughts about sex that Ralph has--and I only got so far as the train journey and him waiting at the station. It makes it interesting when you hear what Catherine has in mind when she arrives. I do want to finish it, but I just need to be in the right mood (whatever mood that is). Maybe I can skim some of the sex scenes--a little bit of that stuff goes a long way for me--even when it's done well.

  10. I've got this in my stacks and am anxious to get to it after reading Bellezza's and your reviews. That is one gorgeous dress!

  11. I downloaded this on my Kindle after reading particularly lovely review of it, but I haven't read it yet. I've been reading so much YA and nonfiction this year, and I'm really starting to crave a good character-driven, literary novel. I'll be sure not to save it for when my husband is out of town though:-)

  12. Thanks, Diane! I hope you like it as well.

    Jill, total guy sex. And great idea re: Anna K! Whenever I attempt it I'll think of this cover to hopefully keep me going through gawd awful confusing Russian names.

    Kathy, the writing saved it from being totally soap opera to me. I didn't find it as melodramatic as The Shadow of the Wind, for instance. That one was total soap opera.

    Captive, it's definitely worth trying. I hope it works out for you!

    Jackie, I'm looking forward to your opinion on this one. There wasn't a ton that bugged me aside from the sex stuff. It seemed nicely paced and I read it quickly and easily for that. Goolrick is a good writer overall, in my opinion, if he could temper the lust a tad. lol

    Nancy, I really liked the first 50 pages, too. I fell into it easily.

    KnittingReader! Good to see ya. I'm glad your computer issues are clearing up. It was pretty darn unputdownable. I guessed some of the subplot, but I wasn't sure exactly how it was gonna play out. I'll be e-mailing!

    Wendy, be prepared. Be very prepared. lol Some of the sex stuff was downright preposterous, but it didn't totally kill the story for me.

    Danielle, I wish you luck with it, especially since I found to be a worthwhile read despite all the sex. A little goes a long way for me, too. I didn't realize how much until this one! I didn't realize sex scenes could end up so darn boring when they're overkill. lol

    I hope you like it, Les!

    Nomadreader, I hope you enjoy it! I've been trying to switch up my genres regularly, so having finished two novel novels I'm going back to YA for a bit. The Forest of Hands and Teeth has my name allllll over it.

  13. I have this book in my TBR, and hope to start it soon. Sex scenes don't bother me, but sometimes there can be a point where they get to be overdone. I'll have to see what I think!

  14. I have this one loaded on my Kindle and will read it at some point. Based on your review I feel like I do want to read it but it can probably wait a bit longer for me!

  15. I hated the ending of this book, so I wrote some alternate endings. SPOILER ALERT: Do not read any farhter until you have finished the book. At that point, you may be as unhappy as I was - there were no plot twists - no surprise endings, so I just wrote my own!
    Alternate Ending Number 1:
    Antonio doesn’t just wound Catherine – he kills her, and Ralph walks in just as her lifeless body hits the floor. He attacks his son and the two struggle for a while, drawing the attention of Mrs. Larsen. She runs and gets a kitchen knife, but by the time she gets back, Ralph is dead also, laying on the floor at the feet of a weeping Antonio. Mrs. Larsen plunges the knife into Antonio’s back, and watches him sink to his knees. She exits the room, wiping her hands on her apron.
    Alternate Ending Number 2:
    Ralph feels really guilty about killing Antonio, and blames it on Catherine. He can’t stand the idea that she will inherit everything, so he waits until she has given birth – a boy - and then kills her, claiming that she died in childbirth. Now he will raise the child who is innocent and will inherit his entire estate. To make sure the child has proper values, he burns the villa and moves back with his son to the little farmhouse.

  16. Here's a couple of more alternate endings - ONLY IF YOU HAVE FINISHED THE BOOK!
    Alternate Ending Number 3:
    Mrs. Larsen cannot believe her eyes – Mr. Truitt has forgiven this harlot who tried to kill him. She loses all respect for him, and poisons them both one evening by serving them tainted clams. They die of food poisoning, and she watches them writhe in agony, while she sits in a rocking chair, saying, “How’s my tasty food now?”
    Alternate Ending Number 4:
    It turns out that Ralph Truitt’s first wife never died. Ralph brought her back from Chicago and imprisoned her in the attic of the villa where she has gone mad. She creeps around in the attic, listening to the activities that are going on below her. She reveals herself to Antonio when he returns and Antonio tells her to stay in the attic until he has killed Ralph. She overhears Catherine talk about taking over her garden, and hears that Catherine is pregnant, and decides that she does not want to wait any longer. Just at the moment that she comes to that conclusion, Antonio begins his struggle with Catherine. She comes out from a hidden bookcase and kills Catherine herself. While Antonio is trying to decide what to do with Catherine’s body, Ralph comes in, and the first wife kills him as well. Antonio inherits everything, and sells everything in the estate and then moves with his mother to Italy where she regains her sanity and he meets a lovely and wholesome native girl who restores his purity and they live happily ever after.
    Alternate Ending Number 5:
    Catherine survives the attack, and watches Antonio die in the lake. “This is working out just great,” she thinks. She continues to pretend that she loves Ralph and that they will live happily ever after, but really, she is just biding her time. She waits until she gives birth – to a girl, and then she poisons Ralph one evening with a massive dose of poison to make it look like a heart attack. She sells everything and moves to Palm Beach, Florida with her daughter so that she will never see snow again.


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