A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick made quite a fuss on my Google Reader last summer and I decided to ask for a review copy. After reading the very first pages I gave up and put the book on my “gave-up” shelf feeling quite regretful. When last week I saw that Sam from Tiny Library was reading it for her Bout of Books, I decided to give the book another try to enjoy a read-along with one of my favourite bloggers.
Rural Wisconsin, 1909. In the bitter cold, Ralph Truitt, a successful businessman, stands alone on a train platform waiting for the woman who answered his newspaper advertisement for “a reliable wife.” But when Catherine Land steps off the train from Chicago, she’s not the “simple, honest woman” that Ralph is expecting. She is both complex and devious, haunted by a terrible past and motivated by greed. Her plan is simple: she will win this man’s devotion, and then, ever so slowly, she will poison him and leave Wisconsin a wealthy widow. What she has not counted on, though, is that Truitt a passionate man with his own dark secrets has plans of his own for his new wife. Isolated on a remote estate and imprisoned by relentless snow, the story of Ralph and Catherine unfolds in unimaginable ways.
With echoes of “Wuthering Heights” and “Rebecca,” Robert Goolrick’s intoxicating debut novel delivers a classic tale of suspenseful seduction, set in a world that seems to have gone temporarily off its axis.
I think most of the times we bloggers have an intuition about a book and we keep our prejudices while reading and most of the times we were right. I think the huge amounts of reading we do can help shape what we expect from a book and we can deduce whether the book will meet our expectations from the very beginning. I think this is what everyone calls the 50-page rule: if a book hast not caught your attention by page 50 just do not keep reading it. I often wrote on Twitter that had I not been reading the book with Sam I would have very gladly given up.
Now I would like to explain why. I certainly see why the publishers would mention “Wuthering Heights” and “Rebecca” because the author clearly takes some themes straight away from those books, but the final product tries to be shocking in a modern way: the word “sex” appears at least in every page. Do not get me wrong, I am not a prude, I enjoyed Fanny Hill as much as I enjoyed other books, but this book seemed to take bad-quality erotic and romantic novels as a model. And it did not work, at least for me.
Another striking feature is the writing. Sam intelligently described it as “weak” and I totally agree. It is weak, but this is also an advantage because it makes reading very quickly. Also, some scenes were so repetitive I could skip whole paragraphs without missing anything important.
And the most important: the title and the representation of women. Let’s begin by taking int account this book is about a man who posts an ad looking for a wife as someone who wants to buy a pet. Of course, the agreement is clear from the beginning, but as the story progresses, Catherine – the reliable wife – just keeps on meeting the expectations of a misogynist. Yes, all characters are evil and twisted, but my patience asked me tear up the book after a rape scene where she is more than willing to forgive her rapist because, as we all know, deep in his heart, he loved her. Maybe taking into account turn-of-the-century standards this is what was expected from a female character, maybe not. I was appalled, disgusted and angry.
Finally, I would like to say I really wanted this book to work for me. August has been a collection of quite average readings and I was ready for an additive, gothic story to distract me from the heat wave. But it simply could not be. I think A Reliable Wife makes average light reading and it could definitely be a beach reading if you are a fan of romantic or erotic bestsellers. But I am not that kind of reader and sadly not a thing in the book appealed to me. Like Sam said, my copy will be donated so that it hopefully finds a good home.