Book Review – A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

24 Aug

I would recommend reading this when it’s hot. Like, when it’s so hot and humid, you can’t go outside. When it feels heavy and it kind of hurts to breath. Only read this book in the summer.

I say that because this book is freezing. It is set, for the most part, in rural Wisconsin, in the winter, in the early 1900s. Being from the South, I really can’t say what that actually feels like, but if the book’s description is remotely true, it sounds terrible. Cold, darkness, unhappiness, fear, lots and lots of snow, more cold, more darkness. People do bad things to each other when it’s cold and dark. It feels hopeless and in ways, that’s what this book was, a hopelessly sad story.

The story consists of three main characters: Ralph Truitt, the purchaser; Catherine Land, the mail-order bride; and Anthony Moretti, Truitt’s estranged son. Goolrick does a good job of fooling the reader. Each character is not quite what he or she seems to be. Each has his or her own motivations, his or her own secret history, his or her idea of what should be. You must keep reading to the end and DO NOT CHEAT. I don’t like end of book reader cheaters.

Books about history, especially about women in history, are always so interesting to me. I love to see how women attempted to make a future for themselves; how it wasn’t as easy as getting a stand-up job and working your way up the ladder. For the most part, women had to marry someone with money in order to sell themselves in ways that are unimaginable. Well, white women, I guess. I never want to ignore the fact that when it is said, “women couldn’t work until….” Whenever I say that, I realize I’m talking about white women. Women who would marry men that worked and could provide for them. Minority women did work and have worked and have made our society go round and round while a lot of the white women didn’t. They did the dirty, unsafe jobs. Not to go too far off on a tangent, I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t making some blanket statement that wasn’t completely true.

Past the plot, there is the prose. The writing made me feel cold. The words were desolate, stark. They made you feel like that winter in Wisconsin. The Reliable Wife is beautifully written, even if it chills to the bone. Even in the winter, Goolrick keeps the reader interested and guessing. Give it a shot, but only on a sweltering August day.


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