A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
Ralph Truitt has been alone in the rural Wisconsin for some 20 years, since his wife and daughter died and his son left home. Yes, he has his housekeepers, his immense wealth, and solicitous townspeople, essentially all of whom work for him. Still, though, Ralph feels alone. He feels so alone, in fact, that he decides to advertise in the papers in Chicago for “a reliable wife.” When Catherine Land answers his advertisement, she seems perfect until she arrives in Wisconsin. Ralph can see immediately that she is not the woman he expected – her lovely face does not match the plain picture she sent along with her response – but he has no idea just how different she is than his expectation, or just what she really is. Ralph has secrets of his own, however, and his own reasons for looking for a wife at this point in his life. Reasons Catherine could never have expected.
It is amazing the number of twists and turns that Goolrick was able to pack into his 290 page book. Because of that, I don’t really feel comfortable sharing much more of the plot with you, as I don’t want to spoil anything (although the book jacket descriptions do actually give away a bit more than I have, so be warned if you don’t want to know more). Ralph and Catherine are both spectacularly flawed individuals, but they each have a redeeming bit of humanity which takes them to deliciously wicked instead of just terrible, horrible characters. I was mesmirized by both of them, particularly Catherine, who commands more of the attention in the story than does Ralph.
The story was perfect. Goolrick added in the perfect amount of mystery and suspense without getting into ‘thriller’ category and without sacrificing the depth of his main characters. I loved many of his little extras – such as the stories of all of the different people in this small, rural, 1907 Wisconsin town who would go crazy during the long winters – and many of his turns of phrase, particularly the “it was just a story of…” section at the end. Primarily, though, his writing seemed effortless and I simply floated along on his story, captivated by the world he was presenting to me. I know a book is good when I seem to be absorbing it more than actually reading it, which means that this book was very good.
This is a lovely piece of fiction that should appeal both to those who like mainstream fiction (‘literary’ fiction) and those who lean more towards mysteries and thrillers. Definitely anyone who appreciates good writing with great characters should go straight out and get this book to read.