Book Review: A Reliable Wife

A Reliable Wife

Robert Goolrick

Algonquin Books

320 pages

Country businessman seeks
reliable wife.
Compelled by practical,
not romantic reasons.
Reply by letter.
Ralph Truitt.  Truitt , Wisconsin .
Discreet.

The above ad is the catalyst for Robert Goolrick’s A Reliable Wife.  Ralph Truitt is searching for a woman to share his life with.  Desparate after years of lonliness, he finally places an ad in the paper for a partner.  We learn right away that the respondant, Catherine Land, is not the person she pretends to be.  She is hiding some dark secrets, but something has driven her to seek refuge as Ralph Truitt’s wife.

Goolrick doesn’t try to hide his character’s secrets as much as is normal for a mysterious book like this.  Catherine and her lover show their hands very quickly and although there is a sense of suspense throughout the book, with the reader wondering what will happen next, everything is laid out fairly quickly.  I didn’t have a problem with Goolrick’s method of telling this story, but I think it could be a downer for some.  It can be kind of problematic in the sense that the plot unfolds so quickly that I can’t really write too much of a synopsis.

As for the characters, I am not sure how I felt about any of them.  It was hard not to pity Ralph.  He is extremely hard on himself, especially when it comes to his sexuality.  He was raised by a straitlaced mother who was consumed by the idea of sin and hell, which led Ralph to chastise himself as he grew older for being a sexual being.  It was sickening how much he beat himself up over his lust.  This became even more of an issue when Catherine came into the picture because she is beautiful and Ralph has a difficult time responding to that.

As for Catherine and her lover—they seemed a little two dimensional to me.  Catherine seems to battle with herself for almost the whole book.  She goes back and forth between her lover and Ralph and what each one meant to her and expected of her.  Although she made right choices and wrong choices, at times it seemed there wasn’t much passion and life there.  I felt this way even more so with the lover.  He just didn’t seem real to me.  And then his interactions with Ralph—I just didn’t buy it!

The reviews for A Reliable Wife seem to be very hot or very cold.  It appears to have been a resounding success among my fellow bloggers.  The majority of the blogger reviews I read not only loved this book, but some counted it among their favorites of year or even as one of their all-time favorites.  The Amazon reviews are the exact opposite, with some of the reviewers referring to A Reliable Wife as a bodice ripper.  I found myself to be in the middle of the two.  I enjoyed A Reliable Wife and found it very readable.  I would recommend it to others despite some of its flaws.  I enjoyed reading it, but I didn’t love it and I definitely didn’t hate it.  It’s a different type of historical fiction, so that is refreshing, and I found the premise interesting.

Other Reviews:

The Book Lady’s Blog

S Krishna’s Books

She is too Fond of Books

Devourer of Books

Booking Mama

The Literate Housewife Review

I purchased this book from Barnes & Noble

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5 Responses

  1. Thanks for the review – my book club is doing this one next month. I wonder which camp I will fall into – I have noticed the reviews seem very divided!

  2. I’m glad you liked it at least! I acquired this book recently but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I’m interested to see what I’ll think.

  3. I had some problems with book but I’m definitely one that ended up more on the “hot” side. I really felt like Ralph and Catherine grew and changed through the book.

  4. As you probably remember, I am one who really liked this book. I agree with you how sad it was that Ralph (actually, all of the main characters) had hang-ups, sexual or otherwise, due to their life backgrounds.

  5. I enjoyed this book, but it wasn’t a favorite. I found myself skimming through the pages of his sexual thoughts, but I liked the twists and turns. Just when I thought I figured something out, it went another direction. I’d recommend it to some readers, but I can see how it’s not for everyone.

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