I had heard good things about “A Reliable Wife”, so I was excited to purchase it at my local Border’s for my trip to Florida. At some point I had read that this novel was historical fiction, and if you know me, you know I love historical fiction!
My first issue with this novel was that it seemed less historical fiction and more historical romance. You may ask: what’s the difference? Personally I draw a difference between them. In historical fiction I find that I learn things about the time because the time and setting are integral to the plot and to moving the plot forward. In historical romance I find that it is a romance that could take place any time, it’s just taking place a long time ago. Now please note that these delineations are NOT based on some literary dictionary but are mine alone! It’s how I classify books in my head. That said, my beloved Outlander series by Gabaldon will never be “historical romance” to me – which it is classed as usually – but “historical fiction” as I feel the time period is critical to moving the plot forward — and how much have I found out about natural remedies and early medicines and Scottish history from reading those novels? A lot!
Anyway – back to our novel. It will be hard to discuss this one without using SPOILERS, so please be warned!
When wealthy businessman Ralph Truitt places an ad for “a reliable wife”, gold digger Catherine Land answers his ad. Catherine has had a rough life and has survived by her wits and by using her body. She deceives Ralph about her past (though he knows from the start that she has lied to him about who she is — she has sent a picture of another woman to him). SPOILER: Catherine’s goal is to marry Ralph and then poison him slowly and inherit his money so that she can live comfortably – with her lover. Does she or doesn’t she I won’t tell you — you can read it for yourself!
I have to say – this book is touted as surprising and thrilling and that you won’t be able to predict the conclusion. Well I did right from the start. If you have experience reading gothic novels – especially those from earlier times – I think you can guess what’s going to happen. Of course guessing what would happen made me less invested in reading it!
I also found the writing in this novel to be inconsistent. It was well-written, but some of the passages had SO much sexual fantasy/memory in them that they felt bogged down. There was a lot of “he wanted to….(half a page to a page of what he wanted to do to her)”. I felt that using the Wisconsin desolate winter landscape as a metaphor for Ralph’s (and Catherine’s) emotional well-being was a bit heavy-handed as well.
This is Goolrick’s first fictional novel, and I’m sure it won’t be his last.
I’d give it 3 Stars.