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Book cover of A Reliable Wife

A Reliable Wife

by Robert Goolrick

Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Pages: 320
Paperback
ISBN: 9781565129771






Available to Buy

Overview of A Reliable Wife

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.

Synopsis of A Reliable Wife

He placed a notice in a Chicago paper, an advertisement for "a reliable wife." She responded, saying that she was "a simple, honest woman." She was, of course, anything but honest, and the only simple thing about her was her single-minded determination to marry this man and then kill him, slowly and carefully, leaving her a wealthy widow, able to take care of the one she truly loved.

What Catherine Land did not realize was that the enigmatic and lonely Ralph Truitt had a plan of his own. And what neither anticipated was that they would fall so completely in love.

Filled with unforgettable characters, and shimmering with color and atmosphere, A Reliable Wife is an enthralling tale of love and madness, of longing and murder.

The Barnes & Noble Review

Nothing is what it seems in the pages of A Reliable Wife, the debut novel by adman and memoirist Robert Goolrick. What starts as a brooding tale of trickery and betrayal is, in fact, a meditation on loneliness. It has roots that reach far beyond the frigid Wisconsin landscape where the tale is set, and which suck their sustenance from the personal torment of Goolrick's own southern-gothic past.

It's a frigid mid-October night in 1907 and Ralph Truitt, a wealthy industrialist living near the Canadian border, is meeting the train. It carries Catherine Land, his mail-order bride, who answered his newspaper ad for a "reliable wife." As happens in all small towns, Truitt's private business has become public. Waiting on the railroad platform, he's surrounded by curious neighbors, most of whom his mills or mines employ.

Standing in the center of the crowd, his solitude was enormous. He felt that in all the vast and frozen space in which he lived his life -- every hand needy, every heart wanting something from him -- everybody had a reason to be and a place to land. Everybody but him. For him there was nothing. In all the cold and bitter world, there was not a single place for him to sit down.


When the train finally arrives, the exotic beauty who exits the private railroad car Truitt sent to fetch her is clearly not the same woman whose photo he holds in his hand. But with so many curious eyes upon them, Truitt hustles her off to avoid a scene, yet delivers a warning: "This begins in a lie. I want you to know I know that."

About the Author, Robert Goolrick

Robert Goolrick is the author of two books. He lives in Virginia.

Reviews of A Reliable Wife

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Editorials

USA Today

"A killer debut novel . . . Suspenseful and erotic . . . [A] chillingly engrossing plot . . . Good to the riveting end." —USA Today

The Washington Post

"A gothic tale of . . . smoldering desire . . . The novel is deliciously wicked and tense, presented as a series of sepia tableaux, interrupted by flashes of bright red violence . . . Once you’ve fallen into the miasma of A Reliable Wife, it’s intoxicating." —The Washington Post

NPR's Morning Edition

"Robert Goolrick's A Reliable Wife is my must-read recommendation . . . This engrossing and addictive novel will leave you both chilled and satisfied." —Chris Livingston, Summer's Best reads on NPR’s Morning Edition

Today Show

"A thrilling, juicy read . . . The writing is beautiful and the story is captivating. It’s a real page-turner." —Today show

Minneapolis Star Tribune

"A tantalizing pace that will have you flipping faster and faster through the pages . . . A beautiful and haunting read, a story about all the different manifestations of love—a story that will stay with you." —Minneapolis Star Tribune

Booklist

“Goolrick twists a familiar story, refashioning it into something completely original. . . . Few have permeated their narratives with gothic elements and suspense to such great effect. . . . The unforeseen conclusion provides a big payoff for readers of this tension-laden debut from a promising new talent." - Booklist

Boston Globe

“Debut novelist Robert Goolrick has managed a minor miracle. In the kind of precise, literary prose that breathes life into his complicated characters, Goolrick, author of an acclaimed memoir, has also managed a rousing historical potboiler, an organic mystery rooted in the real social ills of turn-of-the-century America. Whether writing about the farms of Wisconsin or the fleshpots of St. Louis, he re-creates a full-bodied, believable environment, and he peoples these worlds with characters as sensitive, as tortured as any contemporary souls. The result is a detailed exploration of love, despair, and the distance people can travel to reach each other that is as surprising, and as suspenseful, as any beach read.” — Boston Globe

Christian Science Monitor

A “glittering, poisoned ice cube of a tale . . . Has a little of the Gothic feel of Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca—complete with a dead first wife, suspicious housekeeper, and gorgeous mansion . . . A Reliable Wife is eminently readable and should delight fans of old-fashioned Gothic romances . . . Goolrick is a solid wordsmith, and he handily manages the impressive task of making readers care about a woman bent on cold-blooded murder. And generating the proper Gothic ambience in Wisconsin is no mean feat.” — Christian Science Monitor

BookPage

A "fierce and sophisticated debut novel . . . In its best moments, A Reliable Wife calls to mind the chilling tales of Poe and Stephen King, and at its core this is a tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions. It melds a plot drenched in suspense with expertly realized characters and psychological realism. The fate of those characters is in doubt right up to this relentless story’s intense final pages, and Goolrick’s ability to sustain that tension is a tribute to his craftsmanship and one of the true pleasures of a fine first novel." — Bookpage

Time Out New York

“A weighty psychodrama laced with Hitchcockian suspense.”— Time Out New York

Washington Post

"A gothic tale of . . . smoldering desire. . . . The novel is deliciously wicked and tense, presented as a series of sepia tableaux, interrupted by flashes of bright red violence. . . . Once you've fallen into the miasma of A Reliable Wife, it's intoxicating." –Washington Post

Chicago Sun-Times

"[A] beautifully written, beautifully dark book. Goolrick is a superb writer."—Chicago Sun-Times

USA Today

"A killer debut novel . . . Suspenseful and erotic . . . [A] chillingly engrossing plot . . . Good to the riveting end." —USA Today

The Washington Post

"A gothic tale of . . . smoldering desire . . . The novel is deliciously wicked and tense, presented as a series of sepia tableaux, interrupted by flashes of bright red violence . . . Once you’ve fallen into the miasma of A Reliable Wife, it’s intoxicating." —The Washington Post

Minneapolis Star Tribune

"A tantalizing pace that will have you flipping faster and faster through the pages . . . A beautiful and haunting read, a story about all the different manifestations of love—a story that will stay with you." —Minneapolis Star Tribune

Today Show

"A thrilling, juicy read . . . The writing is beautiful and the story is captivating. It’s a real page-turner." —Today show

NPR's Morning Edition

"Robert Goolrick's A Reliable Wife is my must-read recommendation . . . This engrossing and addictive novel will leave you both chilled and satisfied." —Chris Livingston, Summer's Best reads on NPR’s Morning Edition

Ron Charles

Don't be fooled by the prissy cover or that ironic title. Robert Goolrick's first novel, A Reliable Wife, isn't just hot, it's in heat: a gothic tale of such smoldering desire it should be read in a cold shower. This is a bodice ripper of a hundred thousand pearly buttons, ripped off one at a time with agonizing restraint. It works only because Goolrick never cracks a smile, never lets on that he thinks all this overwrought sexual frustration is anything but the most serious incantation of longing and despair ever uttered in the dead of night.
—The Washington Post

Publishers Weekly

Set in 1907 Wisconsin, Goolrick's fiction debut (after a memoir, The End of the World as We Know It) gets off to a slow, stylized start, but eventually generates some real suspense. When Catherine Land, who's survived a traumatic early life by using her wits and sexuality as weapons, happens on a newspaper ad from a well-to-do businessman in need of a "reliable wife," she invents a plan to benefit from his riches and his need. Her new husband, Ralph Truitt, discovers she's deceived him the moment she arrives in his remote hometown. Driven by a complex mix of emotions and simple animal attraction, he marries her anyway. After the wedding, Catherine helps Ralph search for his estranged son and, despite growing misgivings, begins to poison him with small doses of arsenic. Ralph sickens but doesn't die, and their story unfolds in ways neither they nor the reader expect. This darkly nuanced psychological tale builds to a strong and satisfying close. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

The Barnes & Noble Review

Nothing is what it seems in the pages of A Reliable Wife, the debut novel by adman and memoirist Robert Goolrick. What starts as a brooding tale of trickery and betrayal is, in fact, a meditation on loneliness. It has roots that reach far beyond the frigid Wisconsin landscape where the tale is set, and which suck their sustenance from the personal torment of Goolrick's own southern-gothic past.

It's a frigid mid-October night in 1907 and Ralph Truitt, a wealthy industrialist living near the Canadian border, is meeting the train. It carries Catherine Land, his mail-order bride, who answered his newspaper ad for a "reliable wife." As happens in all small towns, Truitt's private business has become public. Waiting on the railroad platform, he's surrounded by curious neighbors, most of whom his mills or mines employ.

Standing in the center of the crowd, his solitude was enormous. He felt that in all the vast and frozen space in which he lived his life -- every hand needy, every heart wanting something from him -- everybody had a reason to be and a place to land. Everybody but him. For him there was nothing. In all the cold and bitter world, there was not a single place for him to sit down.

When the train finally arrives, the exotic beauty who exits the private railroad car Truitt sent to fetch her is clearly not the same woman whose photo he holds in his hand. But with so many curious eyes upon them, Truitt hustles her off to avoid a scene, yet delivers a warning: "This begins in a lie. I want you to know I know that."

We know it, too. Unlike Truitt, we've spent a few days with Catherine on her ride across the prairie, pondering her past and plotting her future. We're privy to enough of her history to know she's hiding lies far more grave than that switched photo. But we share her disadvantage, too. Who is Ralph Truitt? What does a man of such wealth want with an outsider? Sure, Catherine's an amoral schemer, but we have to wonder -- could this stranger she plans to marry already be one step ahead of her?

And so it is, with just a few tantalizing words, that Goolrick, like any copywriter worth his Madison Avenue letterhead, sets the hook and reels us in. We find ourselves in a winter-bound world, the mysteries unfolding as the story veers back and forth in time. Truitt, scarred early on by the religious extremism of his mother, is tormented by a 20-year-old tragedy. Catherine, meanwhile, a courtesan playing the part of a daughter of missionaries, has deadly plans.

If it all sounds like the stuff of melodrama, you're right. But Goolrick's spare and elegant prose keeps the swirling secrets and repressed emotions of A Reliable Wife from turning into a pulpy, weepy mess. As the author proved in his well-received memoir, The End of the World as We Know It, he's not one to flinch from upsetting or unsavory details.

The first and final thirds of the novel, almost purely plot-driven, race by against a backdrop of stunning visual detail. The vast, white landscape, the relentless cold, the isolation, all offer a delicious mood of foreboding. You half expect Mrs. Danvers to pop out of a cupboard somewhere, hissing that Rebecca still rules this roost. But in the middle section, things go slack. The story turns inward and quickly bogs down. Catherine's sordid past is laid out and Truitt's anguish is explored. As we learn what drives these greedy, grasping and ultimately damaged characters, we're treated to some extended navel-gazing.

Truitt, it turns out, is a sensualist. But at the hands of his nut case of a mother, highlighted by a brief and vivid scene of torture, he has been taught to abhor his own appetites. As a result, there's a fixated, almost fetishistic quality to the language in the love scenes. Goolrick turns paragraphs into incantations. Here's Truitt, longing for Catherine:

He wanted to touch her. He wanted to see the exhaustion of sex in every gesture. He wanted to unpin her hair in a warm room, and lift a pristine nightdress over her head. He wanted to feel the first touch of his hand on her smooth, dry skin.

And a page later:

He wanted to hear the sounds that came from her throat when she had no breath left, when she was breathless with desire.

There's more, lots more. Truitt states and restates his hunger, repeats words, circles back, repeats again, returns obsessively to the same thought until the even simplest wish for the most mundane contact takes on the taint of sin. It's hard not to think, then, about Goolrick's memoir, which lays out, quite matter-of-factly, a horrific scene of sexual abuse.

But this is a novel, after all, and Goolrick has more up his sleeve. The various mysteries unravel, to good and quite surprising effect. Truitt's past meets up with Catherine's present. Both find themselves tested. Goolrick himself lays out the basis for his tale:

It was just a story of how the bitter cold gets into your bones and never leaves you, of how the memories get into your heart and never leave you alone, of the pain and the bitterness of what happens to you when you're small and have no defenses but still know evil when it happens, of secrets about evil you have no one to tell, of the life you live in secret, knowing your own pain and the pain of others but helpless to do anything other than the things you do, and the end it all comes to.

Sounds mighty bleak, but there's one more twist in store. The true surprise in this dark and richly textured novel isn't in the labyrinth of secrets, or even in their revelations. It's in the ending, an unexpected moment of hope which gives the characters, and one imagines, Goolrick himself, a final -- or is it first? -- chance for love. --Veronique de Turenne

Veronique de Turenne is a Los Angeles?based journalist, essayist, and playwright. Her literary criticism appears on NPR and in major American newspapers. One of the highlights of her career was interviewing Vin Scully in his broadcast booth at Dodger Stadium, then receiving a handwritten thank-you note from him a few days later.

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