Review: A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

Title: A Reliable Wife
Author: Robert Goolrick
Pages: 291
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Release Date: April 7, 2009
Publisher: Algonquin
Source: Personal Copy

Robert Goolrick creates a near winner with his stark and austere tale about Ralph Truitt, a wealthy business man in a turn-of-the-century remote Wisconsin town. In the local newspaper, he places an advertisement for a "reliable wife" to be a part of his life plan. After receiving multiple inquiries, Ralph decides to go with "a simple honest woman" by the name of Catherine Land. Catherine journeys to Wisconsin with a desire to escape her past and a plan of her own, with the ends justifying the means. This becomes apparent in the beginning when Ralph realizes that the picture Catherine sent is not of her but of some unknown woman.

Starting out as a seemingly slow and typical romance, the story turns into an unconventional gothic psychological mystery. Everything surrounding the living is in a state of decay and abandonment, with the frigid and barren Wisconsin winter, known for driving the inhabitants of the town to insanity, bearing down hard. Ralph's own desire to escape loneliness, especially in his bed, keeps him married to the mysterious Catherine even after figuring out her motives are not as pure as they first appeared. Add in the search for Ralph's foppish estranged son and the tangled web of violence and deceit quickly begins to unwind. There were actually a lot of plot twists for such a short book.

However, I'm more 'meh' about this novel than anything. I think the writing was decent as well as the pacing and storyline, but the one-dimensional, sex obsessed characters started to negate the other exciting aspects that the author created. The characters were not particularly likable and had very few redeeming qualities. If anything, I think this detracted from the story telling. Despite poor character development, A Reliable Wife is a beautifully written examination of love, in many forms, and the everlasting consequences of those relationships. Goolrick's lyrical character driven story is complex and messy, just like life itself.


  1. I had this in my hand just 1 hour ago, at the bookshop where I often have lunch. I've reads several reviews and they all seem love it or hate it, you're the first "meh" :)

  2. I was a bit put off by the sex-obsessed characters in this book also. The story did have some redeeming qualities but it was overshadowed by the obsession.

  3. I wasn't a big fan of this one either. My expectations were so high, so I was disappointed.

  4. I've heard so many poor reviews from bloggers I trust and so many stellar reviews from sources that I find laughable that I'm likely to never attempt this one. Thanks for the honesty- I think I've made my final decision.

  5. I bought this book for my birthday last year, and haven't read it yet. Like Beth, I have read a lot of negative reviews, but I have also read some really good ones, so I am on the fence with this book. I am sorry to hear that it didn't grab you like you hoped, but I enjoyed reading your review!

  6. Alexandra - It's always interesting when I start seeing the same things in different places all of a sudden. Always that instant "I just saw that" feeling. I don't think the book was complete drivel or one I regret reading. It just didn't live up to my expectations, which is probably a curse of someone who reads so much...really hard to impress.

    Beth - The sexual obsession felt a little contrived. It was as if the author felt his story was boring and wanted to spice it up a little, but I thought it would have been better without those scenes.

    reviewsbylola - If I remember correctly, when I bought this a while ago the initial reviews were really good. So, just like you I had high expectations. I try not to be too influenced by hype precisely because of books like this. I was probably more let down then if I had gone in fresh.

    Beth - Yeah, a lot of the positive reviews that came out first were really misleading. This is what I love about the blogging community...finding reviewers whose recommendations I can trust.

    Zibilee - Thanks! I think if the plot sounds interesting to you then give it a shot. It wasn't unredeemable...I just couldn't connect. Maybe you'll have more luck.

  7. I was interested in the last paragraph of your review. Can one-dimensional characters represent the messiness of life? I'm throwing that out there as a general question. Most flat characters I read stand out like cardboard cutouts because they're so blatantly fictional, whereas more fleshed-out characters keep me guessing and surprise me, just like in real life. What do you think?

  8. Brooke - What a great question! My intention with the complex and messy was more directed at the storyline than the actual characters. I guess I could have worded that a little better. :)

    However, I think in real life both types can be messy, flat and fleshed-out. One dimensional characters are a lot like many people in real life...we only get to see one side of them, such as people we work or take a class with. Yes, there are people who we are really close to who surprise us, but with many people we only get to know one aspect/side of their lives and never get a well-rounded picture. So, I think it's often messier when these types surprise us, simply because we've (not necessarily rightly) placed them into a category and expect certain actions. I guess an okay example would be someone's boss. We think of them in such a professional way that when they do something more "human" we are surprised, often forcing a re-evaluation.

    In fiction, this is definitely a negative for me, especially when the story is told in the third person. Using this POV should allow the author to develop the characters more fully for the reader, so when they aren't fleshed-out I become disappointed. I definitely agree with you on the cardboard cutouts being "blatantly fictional"...and poor fiction at that!

    I know I probably rambled, but hopefully I answered your question!

  9. Fabu review -- I wonder if the obsession with sex was meant to make the characters complicated? I bought this at a library sale but haven't started it -- I'll keep it on my TBR but bump it down -- as others have said, I've seen very cool reviews from folks I trust.

  10. Sex-obsessed characters are a definite turn-off for me (oops, is that a bad pun?)...A large number of customers in the library used bookshop say that read this or are reading it for book clubs..this seems like a curious choice...I guess the reprecussions of choices in matters of love?

  11. My mom gave this to me a while ago and I never got around to reading it. I can't tell if I should give it a go or not. Worthwhile? No need to put at the top of my TBR list? I'm thinking maybe the latter, mostly.


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