August 13, 2013 by Heidi
Welcome to Wisconsin! Home of good cheese and good beer. Is there anything more you need to know? Yes? They call water fountains bubblers.
Personal favorite? Little House in the Big Woods by Lauran Ingalls Wilder
What’s your favorite Wisconsin read?
Title: A Reliable Wife [Goodreads]
Author: Robert Goolrick [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: Stand alone novel.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary
Published: March 1st, 2009 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Format: Hardcover; 291 pages.
Source: Borrowed from my local library.
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.
Here’s the thing I’m not sure people get: to be a tragedy, something has to be tragic. Aka actually moving on some emotional level. Aka you actually have to like/sympathize with/feel even remotely that any of the people involved deserve something better than what they get. Ergo, A Reliable Wife is not a tragedy. Unless you’re looking at the lost hours of my life I spent reading it because those were, I’m afraid, a bit tragic.
I went into A Reliable Wife a little unsure what to expect. I knew my mother had read it–I didn’t know what her reaction was (she’s great with the non-spoilers). I knew I had several friends who had read it, some of them loving Goolrick’s work, some of them looking rather disappointed. It’s always fun to see which side of that divide I’ll fall, so when it came time to pick up a Wisconsin book it seemed A Reliable Wife called to me. We started off as rocky as a mail-order marriage and ended as poorly as, well, as poorly as most dudes who get Catfished. And dude got Catfished (this realization deserves restating as it is the only thing about this book that made me laugh).
I never thought I’d be one of those readers who reads only for happy endings, romance, or laughs, but after my experience with A Reliable Wife, I don’t mind saying that I’m much closer to that camp than the other. Seriously, what is it with our cultures current fascination with all things miserable? In recent years, it seems that nearly every really successful show on TV is populated with miserable characters (Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Walking Dead, [I do realize these are all AMC shows, but let’s not act like network television has put out anything better] Girls, etc.). I’ve quit watching all of them because despite the wonderful performances I just can’t stand sitting around for that chunk of time and watching horrible people do horrible things and either succeed or pout about their miserable lives. I seriously can’t express how few shits I have to give about these people. Check that, I can–none. And that’s exactly where A Reliable Wife fits in. It’s a soap opera all dressed up as something more high brow because of its historical setting and better writing, and because of this I can see exactly why it does have such a wide audience. But I’m certainly not it.
Goolrick’s characters harbor at the crux of things two motivations: sex and money. They are positively lecherous. These were the types of characters whose heads I did not want to be in–it all read as rapey and cheap and disturbing. And I can even handle that as an aspect in a book, but as the main driving force behind every entity it was too much. The entire plot was of the ‘you reap what you sow’ variety, though largely expected and predictable.
Needless to say, A Reliable Wife was a poor choice for me, which is unfortunate as the general premise held so much promise in my mind–a woman who answers a personal ad, both sides having alternative motives–but there was no real depth. For the three main personas involved, the only ‘depth’ of character came through their animalistic desires, leaving the reader largely unfeeling or without pity even when events from their pasts were revealed. It is a book about revenge and desire, about tearing others down to make your own way, and living with the consequences. If you go to Wisconsin, make sure to pick up a different option to give you a feel for the country. Unless the feeling you want is unclean and horrible.
I should have read Dairy Queen. *sigh*