I couldn’t wait to finish this book. Not because I wanted to know what happened but because I couldn’t stand it and I wanted to finish it and write and awful review. But, I can’t. By the time I got to the end, I liked it.
A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick is billed in the cover flap as “reminiscent of the classic novels of the Brontës and du Maurier.” “Excellent,” I thought, “I loved Rebecca and Wuthering Heights.” But A Reliable Wife differs starkly from those in that it begins – and practically ends – with no likeable characters. Everybody’s awful. Everybody’s mean and evil and such. The only character I felt remotely fondly of was the main male character, Ralph Truitt. And that’s solely because he has a good Wisconsin name.
The narrator tells the story through two different points of view, Ralph’s, and the main female, Catherine’s. There really is only one other non-minor character and his is the only mind into which we do not see. The story begins with Ralph and Catherine meeting. He put out an advertisement for a wife; she answered. And here she is, in the middle of rural Northern Wisconsin, to meet her future husband.
You can imagine I was excited about Wisconsin as a setting, but it’s whole purpose is to add gloom and darkness to the novel. In fact, it’s Winter for the entire story. Short days, long nights, bitter cold and lots and lots of snow. Of course I was a tad offended, being so highly protective of my home state’s pure goodness, but I cannot blame Goolrick for his choice. The inspiration for this novel was a book called Wisconsin Death Trip.
My biggest problem with the book, and the reason I disliked until very near the end, is that it is not a what’s-going-to-happen kind of story. It’s a what-the-heck-is-going-on kind of story. Every character seems to know exactly what is going on, but the reader is certainly on the outside looking in, trying to piece together the story as it happens. Filling in the past to the point that by the middle of the book, the reader’s just starting to grasp what was going on in the first chapter. I prefer to be as informed as at least one of the characters. More time thinking about what might happen, less scratching my head about what is happening.
In the end though, I think I’ll reread the book. Now that I know what was going on, I may catch things I missed before. I probably wouldn’t feel that way, except I liked the ending.