Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Reliable Wife

A Reliable Wife
Author: Robert Goolrick
Algonquin, 2010
320 pages

The year is 1907. The place: a small town in northern Wisconsin. A man named Ralph Truitt waits at a train station for the arrival of his bride-to-be, a woman who responded to his want-ad in a Chicago newspaper for "a reliable wife." As it turns out, neither of them is really who they seem to be, and the theme of trust (along with several other themes including loss and redemption) is a key component of Robert Goolrick's first novel.

Goolrick isn't exactly a spring chicken, and neither are his characters. Truitt is pushing 60, and Catherine Land, the beautiful woman he will marry despite trickery, plots, and schemes you simply cannot imagine until you read the book, is at an age where she is "no longer youthful."  Like his father before him, Ralph is a very successful businessman. He wasn't always responsible, but over time has become worthy of inheriting his kingdom. Catherine is equally interesting, a person with many secrets whose photographic memory enables her to make her way through the world in a chameleon-like fashion.

From northern Wisconsin with its long winters to the slums of Philadelphia to old world Europe to opium dens and whorehouses of Chicago and St. Louis we go, experiencing nearly every human emotion imaginable. I can't remember ever reading anything (fiction or not) that describes the "seedy" side of the early 20th century like A Reliable Wife does. It's disturbing, and (for me) it was difficult to put down. Nearly every chapter ends with something you didn't expect, leading you to keep reading . . . all the way to the shocking and unpredictable (for me, at least!) ending. I read it in about four hours - maybe less -- not in one sitting, but if I'd had the time it could have been so.

I read online that the movie rights have already been snapped up. It will be interesting to see how Hollywood interprets this story for the big screen. I'm perplexed by the negative reviews on Amazon and B&N's web sites. Both ratings are averaging 3 out of 5 stars, but it seems as if people either really love or really hate this book. If I'd seen the reviews before I read the book, I might not have read it. But I'm glad I did, and I'd like to give a shout-out to my co-worker friend Jan for the recommendation.