A Reliable Wife

  • by Robert Goolrick
  • Narrated by Mark Feuerstein
  • 8 hrs and 58 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Robert Goolrick's riveting debut novel is both foreboding and sensual. When a wealthy man first meets his mail-order bride in 1907, he realizes this statuesque beauty is anything but a "simple missionary's daughter." But he doesn't know of her devious plan to leave Wisconsin as a rich widow. Nor does she know of the furious demons he longs to unleash during the lonely months of snowbound isolation.

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Audible Editor Reviews

Stinging needles of snow plunge rural Wisconsin into isolating despair as this erotic psychological thriller unravels in the autumn of 1907. Wealthy businessman Ralph Truitt, remote and severe, awaits his dowdy mail-order bride on a gloomy railroad platform, too restrained even to shiver in public. "I am a simple honest woman," she has written him.
When glossy-haired Catherine Land, his young wife-to-be, slips off the train, she collapses Ralph with her unexpected beauty and stillness. Ralph, in turn, shatters Catherine with his growly security and kindness. Each is deceiving the other. Tony Moretti, Ralph's ruthless estranged son, eventually sinks their schemes. A Reliable Wife is Gothic suspense, so secrets leak, blood spills, arsenic drips, and past wrongs are avenged.
Novelist Robert Goolrick knots chilling plot twists with ruined characters. Brittle Catherine buries her depraved adulthood by cloning the "manners of her fellow travelers exactly", down to cleaning her own hairbrush so maids will remark on her good breeding. She holes up in public libraries and steams through encyclopedias and card catalogs, collecting facts for her reinvention as a virginal missionary's daughter. Ralph punishes his roaring sensuality with ice water and listless dinner parties. He is a joyless grind. Love, meanwhile, bores Tony with its "lack of event...the same steady heartbeat".
Mark Feuerstein narrates A Reliable Wife in hypnotic murmurs to resist competing with Goolrick's lush, poetic language and explicit sexual dialogue. He bundles his velvety reading voice into a steady purr, lulling and tranquilizing against overwrought subtexts of hysteria. Feuerstein is unhurried, though never halting. He chronicles Catherine and Ralph's broken tangle with unadorned inflections and conspiratorial silences. Feuerstein invests his characters with authentic hearts, even if they, themselves, are not in true possession of one. —Nita Rao

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What the Critics Say

"A sublime murder ballad that doesn't turn out at all the way one might expect." (Kirkus Reviews)
"This darkly nuanced psychological tale builds to a strong and satisfying close." (Publishers Weekly)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Homage to Walt

...Whitman, that is.
I enjoyed this read, in spite of its retro aspect. I usually avoid novels that are dated pre-2000, but this book held my attention. It's very evident that the author's prose style is heavily influenced by the work of Walt Whitman, with all the richly layered series of descriptions and details. It's also a very visual narrative style and many scenes come together like a still life painting.

The story line is quite powerful and is based on a woman in charge of her destiny. She decides what she wants, formulates her plan and delegates the players within that. Revolutionary for 1907. Thus I felt that the narrator should have been female, instead of the scratchy-voiced older male - although he did lend a "period piece" quality to the reading.

I even liked the narrative style - a bit "stream-of-consciousness" for me, but here it seemed to work.

The reason I give this book only 3 vs 4-5 stars is the preponderance of the customary male pre-occupation with sex and sensuality. There seems to be way too much time and energy devoted to this aspect of human interaction, and I found myself resenting the long sexually descriptive passages, as though they were taking time away from possibly more interesting (to me) topics. I realize this may sound sexist or prudish - and I am the exact opposite - but there is generally a different focus among male vs. female writers in this department. Exceptions abound, of course. The work of Wally Lamb (among others) comes to mind.

Or, regarding the heavily layered sensuality in the book, perhaps there just was nothing more to describe vis-a-vis recreation during a 1907 Wisconsin winter. No internet, email, even telephone conversations. Not that these characters would indulge in video games or online scrabble.

But, on balance I'll give this one a "go".
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- Pamela Harvey "glam"

Intriguing story but only average writing

The premise of this book is very interesting (I'd sum it up as "sexual sociopaths in turn of the century Wisconsin"), as is much of the detail the author imagines for the characters, however it's clear that a more capable writer would have delivered a far more compelling story: there are a number of inconsistencies in the story where a character thinks or acts as if they don't know some crucial detail about another character, only to have it revealed later that they knew all along. It happens with enough frequency in the story as to be distracting and ultimately to make conclusion of the book pretty clumsy.

That said, it's a good read, er, listen and is well narrated. For pure escapism you could do worse. Be prepared for a lot of rather explicit and not always savory sex -- the author seems to be downright obsessed.

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- R. Law

Book Details

  • Release Date: 04-15-2009
  • Publisher: Recorded Books