A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick

A Reliable WifeA disclaimer — I read this for a book club and put it off so long that I literally finished the book in the parking lot of the restaurant where we had our book club meeting. So I may not have been paying the closest attention to the book or the ending and therefore I may have missed all the parts that made this book a beloved bestseller.

Because, yeah. I definitely do not get the appeal of this book. I will grant that the premise is interesting — a fella advertises for a reliable wife, procures a lady allegedly such and also allegedly willing to spend her life in Practically Canada, Wisconsin, but then it turns out that not only are these facts false, but both parties have some ulterior motives for this seemingly innocent transaction. I suppose I should mention that the book takes place in the early 20th century, so the whole advertising-for-a-wife thing is not as weird as it could be.

Part of the problem I have with this book is that the premise invites intrigue and mystery and perhaps some plot, but it’s one of those gothic novels that is more about how snow-covered Practically Canada is and how pretty flowers are and blah blah imagery blah. And yeah, sometimes I like me a gothic novel but this one was just not holding my interest at all.

And I think that’s probably because Goolrick goes for the twist, like, every chapter, and sometimes the twists are “twists,” like, yeah, saw that coming, and sometimes the twists are so completely outlandish that I’m like, “WHAT.” and I just have to go on with my day and not think about it because it will just make my head hurt. I mean, really, let’s make our twists actually consistent with the rest of the book, yes?

I was also let down by the characters, none of whom I liked or really cared about at all. There were a few moments in the story that might have been touching or sad or even just interesting had I felt like I had any connection to the characters involved, but instead I was just left baffled by their actions.

Yet somehow I managed not to hate this book as so many in my book club did. I suppose I’ve read enough gothic novels to know to appreciate the descriptions and recurring themes, and an undergraduate English class could certainly have a field day analyzing the way the characters keep mimicking each other throughout the story. The book’s got its merits certainly, but strictly on the basis of sitting down and enjoying a good read? This is not that book.

Recommendation: For fans of the gothic and maybe book clubs (like mine) whose members like to complain about things?

Rating: 4/10

6 thoughts on “A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick

  1. Mary M. says:

    I have no thoughts on this particular book, I would just like to add that I believe your *other book club* has finally NOT chosen a book that will result in a complain fest.

    Also, I lied, I do have a comment: I bet the book would have been awesomely weird if it were set in the present day.

    • Alison says:

      Excellent! I have Zeitoun waiting for me at the library today, so maybe I’ll get it read this weekend? One can hope.

      And, yeah, the book would have been a lot weirder set in the present day. Maybe not better, but definitely weirder!

  2. Steph says:

    I am with you! I won this book in a giveaway and just found it impossible to read. The writing was bad and the pacing was all off… I had to force myself to read 50 pages of it and then realized that I was wasting my time. I know some people have loved this one, but nothing about it appealed to me at all. There are plenty of other “Gothic” novels out there with lots of twists that are not so painful to read, so I’d much rather spend my time with those!

    • Alison says:

      Yeah, I would definitely not have finished it had I not been reading it for a book club. I’m a little scared because we’re reading The Lantern in a couple of months on my recommendation, and I fear the bad experience with this book will linger!

  3. raidergirl3 says:

    I found this great review about the book at librarything:
    I think I have figured out what it is about Goolrick’s writing that bothers me. His prose is very repetitious. He tends to repeat himself. He repeats himself to create a certain tone. He repeats himself and we get it already. ( posted by scratch)

    Yeah. I think maybe it’s the highly recommended by other people that makes it seem like it would be more than it was. If I’d read it with no expectations, I might have liked it more. Although, the writing didn’t match my brain’s way of thinking, which was the biggest problem for me.

    • Alison says:

      Oh goodness, yes. I love that! I didn’t really have any expectations going into it except my take on the premise, which, granted, was entirely opposite of what the book was. I wish I had read that imaginary book instead…

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