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
©2009 Robert Goolrick; (P)2009 Recorded Books, LLC
"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)
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.
This book is for lovers of "literary fiction" (things like Ian McEwan though this is a much smaller scale); it's not for those looking for a mystery/thriller. The flawed protagonists drew me in and the end was satisfying.
I thought this was a beautiful book. It was a mystery - and it did in did dig deep into the characters past, present and maybe future. It was the old story good versus evil that live within us all. It was a story of forgiveness - of others an of oneself. The words were musical and the narrator's cadence was perfect. I could not stop listening to it. It gets an A from me - it has been a long time since I have heard such a good book.
This was a book that I was not excited about when our book club chose it. When I started to listen to it, I was riveted from about the first five minutes. Mr. Goolrick did an outstanding job of weaving a story with characters that are painted exquisitely. Mr Feuerstein is one of the best narrators I have heard. I have been listening to audiobooks for about eight years. Thank you, Mr Goolrick for an exceptional book, and for choosing the perfect person to narrator. - J. Perrone, Pittsburgh PA
The story itself is intersting but gets overshadowed by the overly descriptive language and detail. At points you just want to say "get on with it". I also feel the author's tone is not consistent through out. In some places it seems classically written and in others, slang is used when the "proper" words are expected. It's a short read/listen but I would not recommend it.
I can't imagiine having enjoyed this book as much if I had read rather than listened to this book. Mark Feuerstein's poetic, sensuous , mesmerizing reading pulled me in, lured me to complete the story, amde me feel the desolation, the isolation, the human need for contact and love in the midst of loneliness. I will carry the message of forgiveness with me long after hearing the last word read.
I really enjoyed this story. The roles each person plays in different and complex. They all had hardships in life and strived for a better life despite the adversity. Some became a better person in the end and others did not. I really enjoyed listening to the role of Ralph. He has many ways of forgiveness that we take for granted. He does display how we are all imperfect, we all make mistakes, we all thrive for love, and that happy ending. I thought is was beautifully written. Sad, yet lovely in its own way.
It looks like you either love or hate this book, and I am one who loved it. I purchased it because I expected to read an interesting cat and mouse game between two devious people. It is not. As someone already mentioned, this is a character study and quite a bit about redemption and whether one can atone for or outrun the past. I will not tell you whether the answer is yes or no, but I will tell you I cared deeply about the characters and how the story was going to turn out at several points along the way and barely restrained myself from fast forwarding to find out. You may call some aspects of the story line predictable, but I found the resolution completely satisfying. I highly recommend this book.
This is the first review I've felt compelled to write although I have listened to many books. Whoever described the narration as "Petulant barking" was exactly on point. The narrator ruins a story that might have had considerably more charm with a better reader. Aren't there editors or someone to say, "hey, hold up there!You sound like you're barking petulantly!!" Well, I fast forwarded to the end,listening to bits and snatches to get the drift and if it had been a book instead of my beloved Ipod I woulda thrown it in the trash. Terrible.
...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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