Thursday, May 1, 2014

Book Review: A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

I totally get that some people - maybe even many people - use sex as a substitute for the love and affection they don't feel they deserve or that they never got from their parents or their spouses or that life denied them for whatever reason but I got really, really tired of reading about sex and little else in A Reliable Wife.

Basic plot: it's just after the turn of the century in rural Wisconsin. Ralph Truitt, a wealthy man who owns and/or employs a large portion of the town, has advertised in eastern newspapers for a woman to come marry him and is now awaiting her arrival by train.  Truitt, we learn, was physically and mentally abused by his mother, and cheated on and abandoned by his first wife. His beloved daughter died, then his son - actually the result of his wife's affair - runs away after taking the brunt of Ralph's anger (in the form of beatings) too often.  Truitt's desperately unhappy and lonely, hoping for some light or at least peace in his life, and decides the way to find that peace is to track down his wayward "son" - who isn't actually related to him at all and whom he beat so regularly and brutally that he ran away as soon as he was old enough - and convince him to return home, or rather, send his brand new wife whom he doesn't know anything about to do it.  Of course, the woman who arrives to marry Truitt has her own secrets, blah blah blah, if I tell you anymore it'll spoil the twisty-ness, so I won't, just in case you decide to pick this one up some time.

Now, when I start a new book, I grab a blank index card to use as a bookmark. I write the title across the top and then take notes as I read the book, usually a page number and a short phrase or quote I might want to find again when I'm writing a review.  Less than a third of the way through A Reliable Wife, I wrote this:

Is it always all about sex?!?!?!?!

And by the end of the book, the only possible answer is: Apparently, yes. Yes, it is.

Of course, there were other threads woven through the story.  The masks we wear, the lies we tell ourselves and others, the regret for our foolish or thoughtless actions, the inevitability of loss and tragedy, etc. But it all boiled to some form of sex again and again and again.  For example,
Love was gone forever, just outside the window, just beyond reach, like fruit on an upper branch. In its place was the sexual attraction of tragedy...He wanted nothing more than to lie in a small, dark, warm room in an anonymous house where there was neither day nor night and have ravenous sex with woman after woman until he died. He wanted a drunkenness of the flesh. He wanted the thing he loved most in the world, the soft touch of another human being, to become a torture. He wanted to die in a sexual embrace, the last of thousands.
There are dozens and dozens of similar passages.  After a few, Goolrick seemed to just be belaboring the point.  Ok, already! We get it! Sex is not a substitute for love! Be nice to people so they don't turn out to be obsessed with sexual promiscuity and perversion because they can't have a normal relationship and it'll all be your fault!

That last bit actually might have been the most irritating of all.  Towards the very end, one of the characters weeps for how another has turned out: "It was not his fault. So little that happened was anybody's fault." Of course, there are events over which we have no control, and of course, traumatic events early in our lives mold us and shape us, but within the context of the story I simply don't buy it.  These characters had choices.  Maybe not always great ones, but they had choices. They could have chosen to live in ways that didn't hurt others the way they'd been hurt and they didn't.

Believe it or not, the book ends on a hopeful note, but in case you haven't figured it out, this is not one I'm recommending.

A Reliable Wife
by Robert Goolrick
ISBN: 9781565129771
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcoverpaperback, ebook, audiobook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here)

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