I have to say that I had mixed feeling about this book. While I enjoyed the evocative nature of the writing and the dynamic flow of the plot, I didn’t really like the characters and felt that their predicaments were less than satisfying. There was a lot of debauchery to this tale, and at times I grew a little overwhelmed with it all. Everyone seemed beset by strange sexual proclivities; at times it was as if sexual thoughts and scenarios were the major highlights of the book. Each of the characters had their own reasons for their fixation on the subject and each of them dealt with their obsession in different ways, but from where I stood, I had hoped the book would be more rooted in psychological suspense and intense plot twists rather than the carnality of the main characters.
Ralph Truitt was a strange man indeed and he really exhibited a dual nature. On the outside, he was perfectly respectable and even mild-mannered, but underneath, Ralph was obsessed with sexual longing and imagery and spent a lot of time obsessing about the appetites that he longed to give into. When he discovers that Catherine isn’t the woman he thought she was, he reacts at first with anger and then, strangely, with longing. It was almost as if his anger at her betrayal melted away in the belief that she could be his ideal, despite the fact that he knew she was conning him. I had a hard time believing that the guilt Ralph harbored would make him so self-destructive and that he would willingly put himself into some of the positions that he did.
Catherine, on the other hand, was a smooth operator that fooled everyone into believing that she was just an innocent young woman who fell on hard times. When she decides to go forward and undertake Ralph’s business, another side of her is revealed and it isn’t pretty at all. Catherine is full of surprises, and none of them are nice. As she returns to her new husband, having both succeeded and failed at her mission, she becomes a woman who is caught in a maelstrom of lies and conscience, and she allows her dual nature battle itself right before Ralph’s eyes. The interesting thing about this was that she was more transparent than she had hoped to be, and that even while gently leading Ralph towards the path of destruction, her past was slowly marching its way towards her, ready to reclaim her in an instant. Passion and lies had a way of slowly wearing Catherine down until she finally could stand it no more.
While I didn’t really care for the main characters, the setting of rural Wisconsin during a particularly bold winter was something that I relished. It was as if Goolrick was writing from experience, and I relished the atmospheric touches that imbued the plot. I think if one was looking hard enough, they could tie both the cold and barrenness of the scenery to the characters’ inner emotional lives. Even without making those kinds of connections, the details of the frozen Wisconsin hinterlands had me mentally ensnared in the realms of a frigid winter and the kinds of secrets that drifts of snow and ice can muffle and cover. Though I was less than enamored of the story, I really enjoyed the setting and thought that it was the perfect backdrop.
Part of my dissatisfaction regarding this book had to do with expectations that weren’t met, and part of it had to do with the fact that this novel seemed only stage dressing for the discussion of sexual issues and proclivities. I would hesitate to call it a bad book per se, it’s just not what I had been looking for when I picked it up. I think readers that go into this one knowing a little more about the substrata of issues that it presents may enjoy it a bit more than I did. Overall though, it just was not the book for me.