I stayed up past my usual time last night, as I couldn't put down Robert Goolrick's latest, A Reliable Wife, newly released from Harper Collins Canada.
I was going to put down my thoughts first thing this morning, but was at a loss to put into words how amazing this book was.
It is set in 1907 rural Wisconsin, most of it during the harsh winter. Crime, mental illness and disease seem to be part of the accepted landscape. Goolrick in his end notes cites Michael Lesy's book Wisconsin Death Trip as having a 'profound influence on the structure and genesis of his novel.' The darkness and madness of the surrounding town is referred to often, adding to the overall tone of the novel.
Ralph Truit is the patriarch of the town that bears his name. He owns everything and nearly everyone works for him. He has money and power, but not the thing he craves the most, that which he has denied himself for twenty years. Female companionship - a wife. He advertises in a newspaper for ' a reliable wife.'
" He had wanted a simple, honest woman. A quiet life. A life in which everything could be saved and nobody went insane."
Catherine Land answers that ad, describing herself as 'a simple, honest woman'. Ralph sends for her and she arrives to become his spouse. However Catherine is not quite what she has represented herself to be.
"She knew a good deal more about what was to happen than he did." " She knew the end of the story."
I don't want to give away any more of the plot. But it is more complicated than it seems at first glance. Two wounded hearts, both longing for what they can't or don't have, bring these two people together, isolated in a small pocket of madness, for better or worse.
The story itself is captivating, but it is the language that mesmerized me. Goolrick's writing is raw and powerful. Ralph's discourse on his wants and desires are simply beautiful. Catherine's disquistion on her life, desires and how she came to be what she is, is brutal in it's honesty.
Read an excerpt from A Reliable Wife.
I don't know what else to say, other than I was caught up in the story from first to last page. Highly recommended!