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Book Review: ‘A Reliable Wife’

October 25, 2019 by Abigail Bostwick

Rural Wisconsin in the bitter cold winter of 1909. On a train from Chicago, coming through the barren wilderness, sits young Catherine Land. Having sold herself as “plain” and “simple,” Catherine has responded to an ad in a newspaper seeking “… a reliable wife … compelled by practical, not romantic reasons …” On the train platform, standing alone, is the other end of the advertisement — Ralph Truitt, an older successful businessman, but unsuccessful in love. 

Catherine is not the woman Ralph is expecting. Rather, she is an enigmatic beauty with a quick and agitated mind.

Escaping a terrible past that still haunts her, Catherine is complex and a conspirator, a planner with an agenda. She’ll win over Ralph’s devotion, heart and finances before slowly poisoning him so he can die painlessly and she can be a wealthy widow with options. 

They quickly marry in a loveless and tactile ceremony, just as agreed.

However, Ralph is not what Catherine is expecting. Ralph has his own complexities and dark secrets of his life. He’s also got an agenda of his own for his new wife. 

Together, husband and wife, it’s Wisconsin in winter. The new couple goes to Ralph’s home — situated on a remote, desolate island where the relentless snow never seems to stop falling. The two will challenge each other in methods neither expected nor could foresee.

Catherine wants love and money, and also, to find her lost sister. However, she is caught between two men over-occupied by their pasts, with no particular future she can imagine and a plan she cannot carry out. 

Ralph has suffered great loss in his life, including his first wife — who had an affair — as well as his daughter and son who ran away. 

It’s the son, Ralph and Catherine who all converge in the end, for a surprising twist and unpredictable endgame. 

Robert Goolrick became one my favorite authors after reading this novel. It is neither a romance nor a mystery, nor a quiet and cozy novel. It is a thinking piece of fiction, told with such utter clarity and attention to detail one cannot help but be drawn in and captivated by. Goolrick’s writing has ever since called my attention as one of the unique and talented writers of the eastern seaboard. 

“Learning became her. She loved the smell of the book from the shelves, the type on the pages, the sense that the world was an infinite but knowable place. Every fact she learned seemed to open another question, and for every question there was another book.” 


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