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A Reliable Wife : A Novel
by Robert Goolrick

Overview - Rural Wisconsin, 1909. In the bitter cold, Ralph Truitt, a successful businessman, stands alone on a train platform waiting for the woman who answered his newspaper advertisement for "a reliable wife." But when Catherine Land steps off the train from Chicago, she's not the "simple, honest woman" that Ralph is expecting.  Read more...

 
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More About A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
 
 
 
Overview
Rural Wisconsin, 1909. In the bitter cold, Ralph Truitt, a successful businessman, stands alone on a train platform waiting for the woman who answered his newspaper advertisement for "a reliable wife." But when Catherine Land steps off the train from Chicago, she's not the "simple, honest woman" that Ralph is expecting. She is both complex and devious, haunted by a terrible past and motivated by greed. Her plan is simple: she will win this man's devotion, and then, ever so slowly, she will poison him and leave Wisconsin a wealthy widow. What she has not counted on, though, is that Truitt a passionate man with his own dark secrets has plans of his own for his new wife. Isolated on a remote estate and imprisoned by relentless snow, the story of Ralph and Catherine unfolds in unimaginable ways.
With echoes of "Wuthering Heights" and "Rebecca," Robert Goolrick's intoxicating debut novel delivers a classic tale of suspenseful seduction, set in a world that seems to have gone temporarily off its axis.
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Details
  • ISBN-13: 9781565125964
  • ISBN-10: 1565125967
  • Publisher: Workman Pub Co
  • Publish Date: March 2009
  • Page Count: 291


Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Historical - General

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 30.
  • Review Date: 2009-01-12
  • Reviewer: Staff

Set in 1907 Wisconsin, Goolrick's fiction debut (after a memoir, The End of the World as We Know It) gets off to a slow, stylized start, but eventually generates some real suspense. When Catherine Land, who's survived a traumatic early life by using her wits and sexuality as weapons, happens on a newspaper ad from a well-to-do businessman in need of a “reliable wife,” she invents a plan to benefit from his riches and his need. Her new husband, Ralph Truitt, discovers she's deceived him the moment she arrives in his remote hometown. Driven by a complex mix of emotions and simple animal attraction, he marries her anyway. After the wedding, Catherine helps Ralph search for his estranged son and, despite growing misgivings, begins to poison him with small doses of arsenic. Ralph sickens but doesn't die, and their story unfolds in ways neither they nor the reader expect. This darkly nuanced psychological tale builds to a strong and satisfying close. (Mar.)

 
BookPage Reviews

Love has icy grip in compelling debut

In 1907, in a small Wisconsin town that bears his name, Ralph Truitt, the wealthy owner of an iron foundry, waits on the cusp of a looming blizzard for the train carrying Catherine Land, his mail-order bride from Chicago. From their first encounter, these desperate characters are plunged into a maelstrom of conflict that propels Robert Goolrick's fierce and sophisticated debut novel, A Reliable Wife, forward at breakneck speed.

Overcoming his sense of betrayal when he realizes Catherine has used the photograph of another to win her way into his life, Ralph reconciles himself to marrying her anyway, and his feelings for the woman some 20 years his junior slowly deepen. Shortly after they wed, he dispatches her to St. Louis on a mission to entice his son Antonio, the product of his first marriage to a faithless Italian bride, to return home. When Catherine arrives there, the roots of her plan to murder Ralph are revealed, and as she confronts the enormity of the evil in whose service she's been enlisted she's torn between the seeming inevitability of her deadly plan and a growing sympathy for her husband's plight.

The harshness of the bleak Wisconsin landscape Goolrick so effectively evokes mirrors the psychological torment of his deeply flawed, but utterly human, characters. "The winters were long," he writes, "and tragedy and madness rose in the pristine air." When the scene shifts to St. Louis, Goolrick demonstrates equal skill at painting the garish colors of the urban underworld from which Catherine has emerged, an environment that has shaped the character she fights to overcome.

In its best moments, A Reliable Wife calls to mind the chilling tales of Poe and Stephen King, and at its core this is a tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions. It melds a plot drenched in suspense with expertly realized characters and psychological realism. The fate of those characters is in doubt right up to this relentless story's intense final pages, and Goolrick's ability to sustain that tension is a tribute to his craftsmanship and one of the true pleasures of a fine first novel.

Harvey Freedenberg writes from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

 
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