Monday, February 22, 2010

Book Review: A Reliable Wife

Title: A Reliable Wife
Author: Robert Goolrick
Genre: Literary Fiction
Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: B-

Summary: Ralph Truitt has been single for 20 years and posted an add in a Chicago paper, requesting a reliable wife. Catherine Land responded to the add saying she was a simple, honest woman. Neither were being honest.

First Line: "It was bitter cold, the air electric with all that had not happened yet."

Review: It's hard to know what type of book this is... Historical romance? Mystery? Literary narrative fiction? Long-winded gas-baggery? All of the above? Actually, it does touch on each of these at one time or another in the course of the book.

There is definite romance between Ralph and Catherine. Their pasts are bizarre (to say the least), but the connections between Ralph and Catherine (even in their bizarre present together) are a redefinition of love and marriage. They speak to the redemptive powers of love, forgiveness, honesty, and sacrifice.

There is mystery. Both Ralph and Catherine have secrets. And Goolrick writes in a way that has you wanting to unravel the secrets and see the eventual unfurling of the plots. The premise of the story is simple, but the execution is highly complex. (And the mystery supports the romance in an entirely non-cheesy way, so kudos on that.)

The writing style of Goolrick is definitely prose-tastic. He writes beautifully. He writes dense and complex introspection. However, he does get long-winded and cross over into the land of pat-myself-on-the-back-for-how-long-I've-made-this-paragraph-and/or-sentence. I skimmed a bit (more and more as I read because eventually I found that the "beautiful" prose got in the way of the book). This book definitely called for a heavier editor's hand.

The other less-than-stellar thing about this book is the characterization. I loved both Ralph and Catherine (which seems to be impossible, based on the premise of the book, but isn't once you've read the book). However, Ralph is unreal. I firmly understand that certain genres require you to suspend reality, but that's rarely the case in literary fiction. The reality suspension in this book came in the form of, "This character is too good. You will never, ever in your long-legged life meet a guy who is this forgiving. Who will say, 'Thank you for trying to kill me.'"

Other than that, it's a good book. A beautiful book. Definitely not a throw-away book. It's not for everyone, but it's a solid read.

Recommendation: Fans of other flights-of-fancy above-all-odds love stories (like Time Traveler's Wife) will appreciate this book.


Linda said...

I too liked Catherine. I didn't think I would either. It was an interesting book and hard to classify. I heard it was a bodice-ripper but didn't think so after I read it.

Literature Crazy said...


I agree. A lot of the negative reviews on were regarding the prolific sex scenes. They weren't "over-the-top" to me. They were central to understanding the perspective/history of the characters. (And it was interesting to see how their views toward sex evolved as the relationships evolved.)