My first book of the year was A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. I expected a murder mystery with an overlay of romance, and I have to admit I was surprised at the serious tone and haunting voice. To be honest, the book jacket made me expect chick lit that was a little more poignantly-written and creative than the average romantic comedy novel. Goes to show you that summaries are not always accurate (don’t judge a book by it’s cover… 🙂 ).
Main character and protagonist Catherine is a woman who answers an ad placed by Ralph Truitt, a millionaire living in a small Wisconsin town — an ad placed in a Chicago paper requesting a “reliable wife.” She marries Truitt with the intent of slowly poisoning him for her own gains (obviously there is more to this story than that, but I will spare you any spoilers).
The plot is brilliant, but what really struck me about this novel was the tone. Devastatingly serious, Goolrick tackles massive life questions about love, loyalty, and choices. I was enchanted immediately. The first scene at a train station of Truitt waiting for Catherine lured me in with well-crafted sentences and two characters instantly established as misunderstood. It immediately let me know that this book was not going to be what I expected — I won’t include any passages as example for you here, because it is worth reading.
This story drew me in and kept me returning to the pages each night before I fell asleep. There are so many dark twists and each turn of events makes the reader question their own personal motivations for choices. I should also mention there is a strong overlay of sexual tension, discussed between two people and also about inner sexual identity and struggle. It is an interesting read, and I think what my favorite thing about this novel was the rawness and honesty — not just about sex, although that is a big part of it.
I genuinely like Ralph and Catherine as people, despite what I know about their pasts and decision-making processes. Dark characters enchant me the most, I think. I don’t like goody-goody’s on the page. This book reminded me that the most interesting people to read about are people who have made mistakes and are living with the consequences. Ralph and Catherine don’t have problems that are easily solved, if solvable at all. This book is much about living with yourself and learning to forgive, journeys told in haunting, desperate voice. It is not the easy read I expected, but that was a pleasant surprise. Definitely worth picking up. If nothing else, this book will not fail to make you think.