Review: A Reliable Wife

A Reliable Wife

A Reliable Wife
By Robert Goolrick
(Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Paperback, 9781565129771, January 2010, 305pp.)

The Short of It:

There is a grittiness to this story that gets into the folds of your clothes and reminds you at every turn that these people are not what they appear to be.

The Rest of It:

Ralph Truitt is a simple man, looking for an honest woman. He places an ad in the paper for a reliable wife and what he gets in return, is Catherine Land.

Ralph and Catherine, seemingly proper, are anything but. Deep down, each possess desires and wants that the other is at first, unaware of. They assume their roles without too much fuss but what Goolrick does next is strip them bare. In just a few pages, you quickly realize that these characters are more like animals than human beings. They become creatures… conniving, desperate creatures hunting for the one thing they believe can make them whole again.

This book is wrought with sexual frustration and desire. Catherine’s every move flames Ralph’s desire for her and let me tell you,  frigid, she is not! Except, she has some secrets and then things get really bad for Ralph. During this dark moment in time though, Catherine and Ralph seem to evolve into something else and throughout all of it, the book is literally glued to your hands.

I could not put this book down. Catherine and Ralph fascinated me to no end. Did I tire of the endless sexual tension? Not really. I think in the hands of another writer, I would have been turned off by its relentlessness, but in Goolrick’s hands I found myself completely taken with the characters and curious about what makes them tick.

It’s not a bodice ripper, but it sort of is. It’s not a psychological thriller, but it could be. It’s multifaceted and complex and like its characters, this story could be many things. I loved this aspect of it. And the fact that I could relate to these characters, was even more surprising. Considering I’ve never quite met a character like Catherine…although she did remind me a little of Cathy from East of Eden. Notice the similarity in names? Coincidence? Maybe.

I feel quite silly for not having read this book sooner. If you have it, pull it out and read it and if you don’t, get a copy soon because I’d love to discuss it with you.

Source: Purchased

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38 Responses

  1. I think I actually gave my copy away unread last winter–part of my effort to cull the shelves. After reading endless reviews describing the book as a bodice ripper, I decided it probably wasn’t for me. Now you have me wondering . . .

    • I cant stand bodice rippers now, but I read them when I was in my twenties (shhhh!) and this does not compare to those at all. Yes, there is a lot of sexual tension, but it was more psychological than physical. At least, that is how I chose to read it.

  2. I barely looked at this book, when my husband picked it up at the flea market, before lending it out and, of course, I didn’t get it back. I didn’t care so much until now! I love how you described the book and now I want very much to read this multi-faceted, multi-themed, many-genres-in-one book! I guess this is why it was getting rave reviews when it was published.
    It better not be a bodice ripper :o)

  3. Sounds like you really enjoyed this one. I have not read this one yet, though it still sits on the shelf.

  4. I love your enthusiasm for this! It is on my kindle and I will read it soon. You had me at your “short of it” review;)

  5. I have this on my TBR shelf as well…it’s actually been there for quite some time. Sounds like I need to give it a whirl.
    I don’t think I’ve ever been a bodice ripper reader…I like stuff that’s much darker…and complicated…and I’m really not a scary, complicated person….or maybe I am ;)

  6. I have had my eyes on this one for awhile, but somehow I never managed to snag a copy. This does sound like one that I would like so I may have to bite the bullet and purchase it! Thanks for the review!

  7. Now, I’m wondering why I haven’t read it. Your review is fantastic!

  8. I loved this, as you know, but what I loved most, I think, besides the amazing psychological/character study, was the twistiness! Love twists!

  9. I wanted to like this book so badly but something about the writing style was irritating to me. It seemed a little subpar.

    • The writing is simplistic. No beautiful prose here, but I enjoyed the character development. I can relate to what you mean by “subpar” but I guess I was more involved with the characters to let it bother me too much. Usually I am a lit fic freak but for some reason, I was okay with the writing.

  10. I really LOATHED this book. I’m probably one of the few that felt this way. I thought the characters were slimy nasty…I felt like I needed a shower after listening. I was disappointed that I had such a reaction. I wanted to love it.

  11. I really liked this book & was fascinated to see that on amazon it got equal numbers of “loved it” and “hated it.” One of those kinds of books. I reviewed it here.

  12. You’re the first person who made me feel like I HAD to read this book. I’ve seen people who hate it and people who love it but you were the first to make me excited about it.

  13. You really captured what this book does to the reader. I loved this one to pieces when I read it a few years ago!!!!

  14. Honest;y, I think I’ve only read mediocre reviews about this book. Yours is the first review that sheds new light on this story….interesting Ti. I do have both the audio and print versions (still unread) Must get to it in 2012.

  15. I think we felt the same about this book. I’m unsettled saying I liked it but I did like it. I also couldn’t put it down, wanting to know how the story would end. I still remember Catherine stabbing the grown son… brilliant and creepy!

    You might find some answers to your questions from our discussion with the author. He loves classics and did read one book over and over (a new title to me).

    http://www.manicmommiesbookclub.com/2009/08/reliable-wife-robert-goolrick-answers.html

    • I’ve never heard of that book. I may have to look it up. I can’t believe he mentioned a sequel…well tossed around the idea, anyway. I’m not sure a sequel could work. Not with these characters. I was sort of interested in the help though…Larsen and her husband who lost his mind.

  16. I hated the characters in this book. I hated the story but I couldn’t put it down! It was the strangest thing ever!

    • I didn’t like them either, but they were fascinating. The author said in an interview that we have to remember that Catherine was abused as a child and that often, abused children don’t know how to love…or how to find love. I do like to think that these characters changed by the story’s end. There seemed to be a bit of hope for them.

  17. I have had this book on my shelf for ages. Originally I didn’t read it because the reviews had been so mixed but maybe I should give it a shot and decide for myself.

  18. I bought this such a long time ago (for my birthday) and haven’t read it yet, but I know many bloggers love this book to pieces. I have heard varying things, but from the way you’ve described it in this review, it sounds just salacious enough to be the kind of read I can’t tear my eyes away from. I need to read this soon! Thanks for the excellent and very persuasive review! Off to locate my copy now!

  19. I’m convinced! I’ll be on a lookout for it. This sounds like my kind of book. :)

  20. Sounds great – it actually reminds me a little bit of another book I heard of recently, although the name escapes me. In it, the main protagonist advertises for a wife in the paper, paying for the entire front page of the paper to list his required characterstics in a wife. Someone responds and he ends up marrying her and the story goes on. It’s actually based on a real relationship – weird.

  21. Wow… I have been aware of this book but no one has ever described it this way…
    I think I actually own it and have just not bothered with it until now…
    Got to love that sexual tension!!!

  22. I listened to this one just over a year ago. I might be the only person ever who did not like it. In fact, I really disliked it, though now all I can remember the feeling and not the particulars :-) I’m glad you found it so enthralling, though!

    • A lot of readers didn’t like it. Goodreads lists a lot of 1 or 2 star ratings for it along with a spattering of 4 star reviews. It would probably make a good discussion book since camps are so divided over it.

  23. This does sound very interesting, and I have a copy, but I think the negative reviews made me hesitant so I never got around to reading it. I’ll just have to make time for it at some point.

  24. I really liked this one a lot; the characters were just great and I loved watching them develop and grow.

  25. I am not sure what happened but half way through this, my whole experience changed and I was so annoyed in the second half after being glued to it in the beginning. This is an excellent bookclub book. People keep telling me it stays with you; not one to forget no matter if you liked or disliked. Truthfully, the fact that it was inspired by a book and photos of true newspaper clippings from an area in Wisconsin in the late 1800s has given me a new appreciation.

    • So interesting that you had such a different experience with the second half. As you said, it makes a great book for discussion. I kept comparing her to Cathy from East of Eden. Also rotten to the core and very similar in disposition.

  26. [...] Ti of BookChatter’s Review [...]

  27. [...] Perkins-Valdez 57. Strangers by Anita Brookner 58. The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian 59. A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick 60. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern 61. We the Animals by Justin [...]

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