Monday, March 19, 2012

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick — 320 pgs

Ralph Truitt is a very lonely and extremely rich man. When he places an advertisement in the paper for a woman to share his life and become his wife, he’s met with a response from Catherine Land, a woman who describes herself as “simple and honest,” a description which ensnares Ralph from the beginning. When Catherine arrives in Wisconsin for their first meeting, Ralph quickly discovers that the woman to whom he’s been writing is a fabrication, and much to his embarrassment, he finds that he cannot send her away. As Catherine bides her time earning Ralph’s trust, it becomes clear that she has a secret and a plan that she is waiting patiently to execute. But Ralph has a plan of his own, and when he enlists Catherine’s help to execute it, he unwittingly brings danger and disaster down upon his own head as well as that of his new wife. But despite Catherine’s wishes to trick Ralph, as time slowly winds on, she finds herself in the uncomfortable position of falling in love with the man whom she’s bent upon destroying. When an unexpected visitor arrives, to the chagrin of Ralph and Catherine, a vicious turn of events catapults the three into desperation, revenge and a startling set of confessions that will leave Catherine and Ralph changed forever. In this haunting and atmospheric novel set in early 1900s Wisconsin, a damaged woman and lonely man somehow find their way towards each other with frightening repercussions that neither can foresee.

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.

26 comments:

Harvee said...

Too bad about the book in general; the plot sounded promising at first.

Kathy said...

Heather, I was a little more positive on this book that you. I did get into knowing it was a Gothic romance, not always my favorite genre. I really have to be in the right mood to read something with this much imagery in it. I agree with your comments on the atmosphere and the setting, they were memorable. Another well written review, thanks.

http://bookdiary2010.blogspot.com/2010/06/reliable-wife-by-robert-goolrick.html

Kaye said...

Wonderful review, Heather. It tells me enough about the book that I know it wouldn't be for me. Thanks for your honesty.

Mary (Bookfan) said...

I actually bought the book and then gave it away after reading several reviews similar to yours. It was also an Oprah book club pick if I remember correctly. That should have been a warning for me as her later picks disappointed me for the most part.

Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I'm not sure this one would be for me. Thanks for your honest review!

Steph said...

I won this book via a blog give-away and I just could not get into it. I tried a few times, even while away on vacation when I had nothing better to do than read, and still I just couldn't inflict this book on myself! I didn't like the writing at all, and after about 50 pages or so, I realized there was nothing to keep me reading. I've since read many reviews that talk about how much sex there is in this book (and how awkward that element can be given how graphically it is depicted) and I feel no regrets regarding abandoning this book!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I loved this book and actually posted two reviews of it! I think the sex had to do with their self-hatred and self-destructiveness. I would be interested to know what you thought of my interpretation if you happened to read my review...

Audra said...

Great review -- you've highlighted what I've seen others mention -- which is why I haven't started this book. Too bad it was so ... off as the setting seems so great -- that's what originally drew me!

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

This book certainly seems to creates sides - either you're on the love it or leave it side - and there's just no in-between! I actually was surprised and really enjoyed this book, but I know the sex that's in it is certainly surprising. I ended up finding the comparison of their lacking lives and the symbolism quite interesting and it was a book I recommend, but I feel I have to tell people that there is a lot of the sex, too! Great insight, Heather! I see why it can be a bit conflicting and you're right that it's not a book for everyone!

Suko said...

I'm not sure I'd read this, but maybe. The setting does sound interesting. Excellent review!

Suzanne said...

My book club read this last year and most of us didn't love it, but one member was so offended by it that she didn't attend our discussion and in fact we haven't seen her since.
As other commenters have mentioned, it is definitely a polarizing book.

Ti said...

I liked this book quite a bit. She reminded me of Cathy from East of Eden. She has that "rotten" gene going through her and that held my interest.

There was a lot of sex and talk of sex, but to me... it made them animalistic which seemed fitting to me. Didn't love the characters, but loved that they were so flawed.

bermudaonion said...

I find your reaction really interesting. I was interested in this book because I'd read so many glowing reviews, but then a good friend of mine read it and said it reminded her of a soap opera, so I had second thoughts. You seem to be more in my friend's camp.

Marg said...

I have owned this book for ages but never actually read it. I might leave it on the TBR pile for a bit longer!

Kailana said...

I have owned this book since it came out, but I still haven't read it. I have heard mixed reviews of it, though.

Literary Feline said...

I gave my copy of this one away last fall after reading enough reviews that made me doubt it was for me. I sometimes have wondered if I made a mistake, but I imagine if I ever truly change my mind and want to read it, I can find a copy again. I think, like you, my expectation for this book would have been different than what it actually was. It is too bad, really. The premise had so much promise.

Jenners said...

I've heard reactions similar to yours in a few reviews. Still, the book just intrigues me at some level.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I liked it more than you, too - although I had to look back at my review to remember why. I think it was the pacing, the teensy bit of magical realism, and exploring the theme of public persona vs. private life. But, yes, Ralph couldn't stop thinking about sex (too much of a long, cold winter?!?)

geoff said...

Somtimes when our expectations are not met in a book we don't enjoy it. however, the precise sounds like good though!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I haven't read this one yet, but do own it, and have been a bit hesitant as the reviews really have not been the positive.

Your honest reviews are always appreciated.

Vasilly said...

Too bad about the book. I'm going to pass this one up even though the setting sounds amazing.

nomadreader said...

I've been meaning to read this one forever. Knowing the setting is Midwestern winter intrigues me even more! Even though this one didn't totally work for you, I'm still looking forward to reading it.

Cath said...

I was not a big fan, either. I felt like the author started out with something to say and then got consumed with make there be a big TWIST instead of a clean and solid plot. Oh, well.

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

The general plot of a woman coming to destroy a man and falling in love reminds me of the movie Thomas Crown Affair.

It's bad it didn't meet your expectations. Perhaps you were seeking for something that wasn't there; perhaps the sexual proclivities were what the author wants to talk about. But then it just didn't work for you.

Your reviews are worth the read.

LisaMM said...

Heather, I could have written this review myself!! My feelings were so similar to yours. I'd have to look at my review from a couple years ago but I remember feeling like I was in the minority in the blog-world for not liking it. It just was NOT my thing, and most of the people in my book club felt the same way.

reviewsbylola said...

This book really rubbed me the wrong way. I was convinced I would love it because the premise fascinated me but the execution fell short.

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