Genre: Historical Fiction
Reading Challenges: 31 for 100+ in 2009

A Reliable Wife is a book that I think will live in my memory for a long time. Once I started reading, I literally couldn't stop. I love Goolrick's style. I think his writing is beautiful, but sparse, as though he were afraid too many words would muddy the world he was trying to create. To me, this book is more than historical fiction. It almost belongs in a category I would call historical noir. This isn't a crime novel, but there is plenty of cruelty, moral ambiguity, and almost everything is motivated in some way by sex.

The novel is set in the Wisconsin wilderness during the late 1800's. We are first introduced to Ralph Truitt, a man who is so wealthy that he is the economy of his local community, as he waits for the arrival of his unknown future bride. That bride is Catherine, a woman who begins her relationship with both the reader and her future husband with a lie. She is not what she seems, but neither is anyone else, or anything else in this novel. Ralph and Catherine both have written their own scripts for the future, but neither can foresee how each will affect the other. I don't want to give any of the plot away, as part of what I enjoyed most in reading this book was watching it unfold. For this book in particular, I would recommend avoiding spoilers if you can.

A Reliable Wife is ultimately the story of individuals who have been deeply scarred by their pasts, and the choices they make to either grow and change, or to remain prisoners of their demons. Goolrick doesn't present his characters as helpless pawns, but instead demonstrates that they have choices; that although what they do may be influenced by the past it is not inevitable. This is also a novel about sexual obsession. There is quite a bit of sex, which had me skimming a few pages here and there, but more often it is an exploration of how the characters feel about sex than graphic descriptions of the acts themselves.

I enjoyed this novel, and I will watch for more of Goolrick's works in the future. I don't know if I will ever read this particular novel again, as I found it a bit of a depressing read. If you have read this book, I'd love to know what you think.
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