Holy smokes. There are few books that require so much attention from me that I am fighting responsibility in order to finish it. A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick is just that kind of book. Full disclosure: I started reading this book in April while on vacation, got about 10 pages in and thought it just wasn’t for me. My husband is loosely connected to the author through a friend of ours and has exchanged emails with him on some art and publishing related subjects. I felt a small obligation to give it another shot because of this and picked it up again three days ago. Honest, I really haven’t been able to put it down. In retrospect, I was mostly being a douchey reader around the first attempt. I am not afraid to admit douchiness with reading every now and then.
Back story aside, the chaste title gives no indication to the extraordinarily suspenseful content in Goolrick’s masterfully told tale of three lonely, sexually devious, almost hateful, people in a desolate Wisconsin winter landscape. A gothic tale filled with sexual trysts and wicked twists, A Reliable Wife is ultimately grounded in a story about the insatiable desire to be loved and forgiven.
It opens: “It was bitter cold, the air electric with all that had not happened yet.” Ralph Truitt, a turn-of-the-century railroad magnate, desperate to regain the adoration of his scorned son, Antonio, stands alone on a stark train station platform of the town bearing his birthright. The train carrying his most hopeful possession, a promise that a woman would give the proper appearance, a home his son deserved, is late. Ralph had placed an ad for “a reliable wife” and the woman chosen to fill this position, Catherine Land, answered the ad saying she was a “simple, honest woman.” But her words are just as fake as the photo she sent him, a photo of a woman she is not. Catherine Land is not simple. Catherine Land is not honest. Catherine Land has plans for Ralph Truitt’s ultimate demise--all for money and love.
What makes this book so wonderfully evocative and intoxicating is Goolrick’s precision of language and master prose. His work is like that of an artful spider crafting the perfect web. Each line of sticky silk becomes an unavoidable and essential part of a flawlessly crafted masterpiece and readers are but the prey he feasts upon.