Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick

This book is everywhere these days, including the top of many must-read lists. I've been surfing the net for hours, trying to figure out who likes this book so much, and why. I have come to the conclusion that it is beloved by people who adore bodice-ripping romances, but like them to feel like good literature.

As for it being a prime choice for book clubs, my bias against that designation has just increased. Surely people who get together to explore character and motivation would require something with a little more subtlety and substance.

I admit to having finished the book; I wanted to see how it ended (though I hated the ending). It struck me, originally, as a typical first novel; a little obvious, with the author tending to explain what was happening, rather than just letting events unfold. Eventually, however, the prose descended to platitudes, with characters summing up their entire lives in single sentences. From chapter to chapter, everybody's behavior changed one hundred and eighty degrees, yet they all calmly stated that they would never return to their former ways. Except that they did, over and over. Then they'd state again that they had changed, utterly.

The plot snapshot is this: 1907, Wisconsin. A wealthy, and I mean Midas-like, widower waits for his mail-order bride. Surprise, she is not the woman she claimed to be. No problem, he is patience itself. She goes off, at his request, \ in search of his long-lost son. Surprise, she returns to the former life we, the readers, had guessed she'd led. She returns to her husband, and yes, she does chooses this version of her life after all. Then the son throws a wrench into the works. Love, guilt, shame, and emotional blackmail ensue. And sex, lots of sex.

The thing that bothered me the most about this book was the timeline. It all takes place over the course of a single winter. Now I know that Wisconsin winters are long and hard, but honestly, this one must have lasted for 17 months! Statements such as "night after night" and "day after day" are used with great frequency in this book, which leads the reader to assume that each section of the book lasts for, well, weeks and weeks.

As I mentioned, other people do like this book. Here's a much more complimentary review, from the Washington Post. I might still read Goolrick's memoir, The End of the World as We Know It. It sounds like the kind of dysfunctional family history I enjoy, and it's set in the South, where they really know how to do family drama. He should probably have left the cold, austere winters of Wisconsin alone.

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't stand this one. There was so much hype and then I read it and it was just a romance novel in disguise. I was not impressed.