A Reliable Wife

The New York Times placed A Reliable Wife at the top of the trade fiction best sellers; Carol Memmott gave it a raving review in USA Today; and I got a free copy – so what’s not to read?

Setting his story at the turn of the twentieth century, Robert Goolrick does not take us back to Little House on the Prairie in Wisconsin – more like the revenge of Carrie in long swishing dresses and calculated wealth.

Catherine Land answers an ad, placed by wealthy and socially incompetent Ralph Truitt, to become a mail-order bride. Neither bride nor groom are what they appear to be – both padded their resumes and faked their reasons for participating in the 1907 version of match.com.

Goolrick takes the reader through a convoluted story that explores the underbelly of the time, complete with descriptive erotic exploitation, poverty and despair, abandonment and cruel abuses.   Somehow, throughout all this mayhem, the story has the civilized composure of a Victorian gothic tale, and Goolrick manages to keep the reader lulled and excited at the same time.

Catherine Land reliably marches forward in the plot toward her goal to become a rich widow, and Ralph Truitt seems to be complicit in the scheme. But, the story is not that simple, and the ending – although you will see it coming – does not disappoint.

Memmott would cast Tippi Hedron (from Hitchkock’s The Birds) or Kim Novak (from Hitchcock’s Vertigo) as the lead, but a sultry Catherine Zeta Jones  (think Entrapment) might work well today.  Sex sells, after all, but the classy  Catherine Land as The Reliable Wife makes it a book you won’t have to read under a brown cover.