Friday, March 20, 2009

Review: A Reliable Wife

Summary: 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. -- Algonquin Books

I have been reading so many incredible reviews about A RELIABLE WIFE by Robert Goolrick that I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about. I absolutely devoured this book and completely agree with what all the critics are saying -- A RELIABLE WIFE is an amazing book. I highly recommend this novel and suggest you add it to your must-read list.

When I first read the book description for A RELIABLE WIFE, I thought it sounded intriguing. A wealthy widower has purchased an ad looking for "a reliable wife." The book begins with him impatiently waiting at a train station for his future wife to arrive. He is shocked when a beautiful woman gets off the train because she doesn't match the picture of the "plain" woman he was expecting. I immediately knew that Catherine wasn't the woman she was pretending to be and had a very questionable past -- she actually was planning on killing her new husband and taking all his money. Catherine's actions were a big indication to me that things in this story might be a little more complex than they first appeared. And, it was the first sign that this book would be filled with many twists and turns.

I absolutely love how this story unfolded! I felt as if I was always discovering something new about these incredibly complex characters. What I found odd about this book was that I didn't actually like any of the characters, yet their lives and actions had me completely mesmerized -- I usually enjoy books more when I can relate to the characters. All of the main characters were coping with a great deal of baggage, and as a result, were very damaged and flawed. I'm sure I was attracted to their stories because they were so sordid, but I have to admit that I found them fascinating.

A RELIABLE WIFE is Robert Goolrick's first novel and I have to say that it's a very powerful debut. I cannot rave enough about this book -- it's riveting. Mr. Goolrick is an extremely gifted writer, and I was blown away by the way he told this story. I'm not exactly sure how to describe his writing style, but to say it's almost understated. Every word was carefully chosen for a reason and to evoke a particular feeling. His descriptions of the Wisconsin countryside and the town's inhabitants are just perfect -- I could visualize the desolate, snow-covered countryside and even understand how some of the people in this town went mad. This book would without a doubt make an incredible movie, and I wasn't surprised that the film rights to A RELIABLE WIFE have already been purchased by Columbia.

A RELIABLE WIFE should be on your book club's list of books to read because it would make a fantastic discussion book. It has already been selected as one of The April 2009 Indie Next List Great Reads. Just last week, Reading Group Guides blog had a terrific guest post written by three librarians about A RELIABLE WIFE. I especially enjoyed reading their most talked about discussion questions at the end of the essay. The themes in this book aren't unique to this story, but they are told with an entirely new slant. Some of the topics your club might discuss are lies, deceit, loneliness, forgiveness, madness, violence, and revenge. You could probably just talk about the psyche of the characters for an entire evening. This book really is that interesting.

A RELIABLE WIFE comes out on March 31st. You might just want to pre-order it to make sure you have it right away! A big thanks to Algonquin Books for sending me an ARC to review.

27 comments:

Beth F said...

I read your first paragraph and stopped because I didn't want to be influenced by what you wrote. I hope to read this one in the next couple of weeks. I can't wait! And from your first paragraph, I know I won't be disappointed.

bermudaonion said...

What an exciting plot! Sounds like one I need to read soon. I can't keep up with you when it comes to reading, though.

Gwendolyn B. said...

I'm with Beth F - I am so eager to read this book and want to do so with a "clean slate." Glad to know you really liked it, tho!

Cheryl said...

Great review. I thought about reading this book but wasn't sure. After reading your thoughts, I will check it out

Jo-Jo said...

Wow that was a great review Julie. It sounds like a book that I would definitely enjoy and will probably suggest to my book club. Thanks for the recommendation.

Jen - devourer of books said...

Oh, I hope I get this soon! I'm dying to read it after what everyone has been saying about it.

Kelly (AKA bookfool) said...

*sigh....in spite of my best efforts, I've continued to come up short in my quest to snag and early copy of this. *sigh...guess I'm going to be buying it!

Great review!

Ti said...

After your review I had to add it to my GoodReads list. I am never gonna get through my reading list! The book sounds so good.

carolsnotebook said...

I have this one on my list already. I can't wait to read it.

Amy said...

I almost didn't read your review since I haven't posted mine yet, but you're right, I thought it was brilliant. :)

Alyce said...

Marvelous review! I have added to to my wish list.

S. Krishna said...

As you know, I loved this book as well. This was a great review, you did the book justice! I'm not sure my review will, but it'll post on 3/31.

Anonymous said...

I just don't get it. I had it as an audio download, and was forced to listen to it on a road trip. I thought his writing style was OK, but the endless, repetitive, and conflicting interior monologues were as grating as a Gerbil on a wheel. How many ways can you say damaged.
Two of the main characters were despicable, and the third mad with obsession.
Thin plot did not hold water, and the end was no surprise.
Gothic run amok.
No surprise at the end.

Eva said...

"Anonymus" is a little bit cynical!

This book is pure poetry. The richness lies in the simplicity of Goolrick's words. If I dared to compare his style, it would be close to that of Hemingway, who also wrote simple, but very effective words to express deep human feelings. Goolrick's imagery is also another tool that draws you in like a magnet into his world of deception, obsession, lost lives and redemption.

Anonymous said...

There's a difference between "poetry" and "repetition." Mr. Goolrick doesn't recognize the distinction. His book is nothing more than a bland retelling of the delightfully overripe Angelina Jolie/Antonio Banderas film "Original Sin." I read the first sixty pages of "Reliable Wife" before I realized I could read the first line of every paragraph and fill in the cliches that followed. Moderately pretentious, thoroughly dull, and certainly not poetry. Or, for that matter, Hemingway.

grannybabs said...

I'm not sure why I picked this book up - the synopsis and review seemed intriguing.

But I'm with anonymous - it was dark, dark, and more dark - without much depth to the darkness. Lots of repetition and little clarity.

The plot line is compelling - I would have liked to have seen more detail given to an understanding of the surroundings that created Ralph Truitt in the first place. Good regional fiction usually does that.

Catherine is sketched - I would like to have seen a more fleshed out character. They were all fairly one dimensional to my way of thinking.

Martha said...

I thought the writing was excellent, but the plot was one that I knew I had read before, and I knew what was coming and really only skimmed the first half of the book because of that. Until I read "Rebecca again", I will wonder which novel this author has "copied" -- and wonder how much I approve/disapprove of rewriting a previously published plot as your own. All in all a good read, but nothing new.

playgroupwithsylviaplath said...

was looking for reviews on Reliable Wife and stumbled upon your blog. FULL of stuff! Really great suggestions, reviews, challenges, etc. - it will be a great resource for me and my bookclub. - If I end up writing a post on Reliable Wife, I'll send it your way. (www.playgroupwithsylviaplath.com)

playgroupwithsylviaplath said...

was looking for reviews on Reliable Wife and stumbled upon your blog. FULL of stuff! Really great suggestions, reviews, challenges, etc. - it will be a great resource for me and my bookclub. - If I end up writing a post on Reliable Wife, I'll send it your way.

Jennifer said...

I'm actually picking this book up at the library today. I did the same thing as Beth F. - read your glowing recommendation and decided to save the rest of your review until after I read it.

jennifer said...

Absolutely loved this book. It has created a new desire for reading in me. Now looking for books this good.

L.L. said...

Hi, I read "The Reliable Wife" last week, however, last weekend I saw the movie "Original Sin" by Angelina Jolie and Antonio Bandaras. It is almost the same story, same plot just minor changes. The movie was based on a novel call"Waltz into Darkness" by Cirnell Woolrich. I wonder if anyone else has seen this movie it came out in 2001 and The reliable wife came out in March 2009. Such a coincidence.

irishii.amj said...

This book, while intriguing, was a most difficult read. The characters live through their darkness, do not aspire to, nor believe in gratitude, love, brightness, or possibility and creativity. They are sadly so self-absorbed, narrow and pathetic that I nearly gagged in dragging myself through the book. Dark, bleak, pathetic - I read this on vaca and left it by the pool... didn't want it to darken my return home. Ugh. Where is hope in creation, in beauty? (not in a sad little 'secret garden'...)

babyluv said...

I am listening to this book on my MP3 and all I can say is W O W ! I can't wait to see how it all ends. I know how I WANT it to end and hope I'm not disappointed ! :-) Either way, excellent story!

berkshire grammy said...

I am an avid reader and admit to being a disgustingly literary snob. This book only got 3*** and not wonderful reviews but it sounded intriguing. I Loved It!! The cold of Wisconsin, the heat of the couples,the wonderful character development made the book wonderfully readable. I'd give it 5*****.

andrea said...

just bought this book online because of our review! Needed something to read on vacation and I def needed a real persons input! I'll let you know what I think!! thanks!!

Karen said...

I loved this book too. My friend Sheila of Literary Bookstop in NC suggested it; she was absolutely right!