Mezzowriter's ReadWriter Blog

Reading, Writing, and The Search for Buried Gems of Literature

What I’m Reading #14: A Reliable Wife March 8, 2010

Since I love used bookstores and Paperbackswap, I often resist paying cover price for books.  This was one of those books I had to try really hard to wait for.

I was captivated by the cover when I saw it at Borders, and even more so by the synopsis on the back.


A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

Algonquin Books, 2010

Courtesy of

From Publishers Weekly

Set in 1907 Wisconsin, Goolrick’s fiction debut (after a memoir, The End of the World as We Know It) gets off to a slow, stylized start, but eventually generates some real suspense. When Catherine Land, who’s survived a traumatic early life by using her wits and sexuality as weapons, happens on a newspaper ad from a well-to-do businessman in need of a “reliable wife,” she invents a plan to benefit from his riches and his need. Her new husband, Ralph Truitt, discovers she’s deceived him the moment she arrives in his remote hometown. Driven by a complex mix of emotions and simple animal attraction, he marries her anyway. After the wedding, Catherine helps Ralph search for his estranged son and, despite growing misgivings, begins to poison him with small doses of arsenic. Ralph sickens but doesn’t die, and their story unfolds in ways neither they nor the reader expect. This darkly nuanced psychological tale builds to a strong and satisfying close. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


I fell in love with the cover.  And, surprise surprise, it was another book that had been published elsewhere first.  I’d actually have loved the Canadian cover even more.

How gorgeous would THAT have been?

But I digress.

Strengths: I devoured this book in a day.  It has everything: love, hatred, loathing, revenge, redemption, forgiveness, murder, debauchery, sex, betrayal… It’s deliciously naughty without turning into a bodice-ripping historical romance.  It’s definitely a juicy read, and despite Publishers Weekly’s assertion of the “slow, stylized start,”  I found it hit the ground running.  It has a Gothic twist, set in…Wisconsin, of all places, which is so unexpected I love it.   Catherine is secretive, devious, and beautifully flawed.  The narrative evolves with a ghastly inevitability, so much so that you can’t tear yourself away, knowing full well where it is heading.  Why do I find arsenic poisoning so fascinating?

Potential Flaws:

Really, I wasn’t able to pick anything that weakened the story.  It’s entertaining, but not a literary masterpiece.  But honestly, that’s not what I was looking for when I picked it up, anyway.

My Rating:

A very pleasant, decadent diversion.  Great for a lazy rainy afternoon.