A RELIABLE WIFE by Robert Goolrick

Goolrick A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick got a lot of attention on book blogs this spring. It’s a dark but fiery book about a love triangle – Ralph, a lonely, rich man in rural Wisconsin; Tony, the son he abused as a child; and Catherine, a mysterious woman who answers Ralph’s ad looking for “a reliable wife”. Without spoiling anything more – A Reliable Wife is, at its core, about love, passion and loyalty, and how these three can drive people to extreme measures.

I didn’t love this book. I had read a lot about the twists and turns, the suspense and the intrigue, and while that was all true, there were some things I just didn’t like about it. Goolrick’s writing is descriptive and dramatic, but the narration became repetitive and inconsistent at times. Characters would undergo total transformations within a page or two, which was jarring. Ralph and Tony were obsessed with sex, to the point where it got boring to read about it. The whole book took place over about 9 months, but it feltlike years had passed based on the descriptions in the book of monotony and repetition as well as the character development. It all just seemed inconsistent.

I enjoyed some of the historical background – the descriptions of St. Louis and Wisconsin at the turn of the century, as well as the period detail. And I found it to be a compelling read, while I was in the midst of it. I wanted to know what would happen next and I was eager to pick the book up whenever I could. But in the end, it was unsatisfying. I found it unnecessarily dramatic – many reviews have used the word “heavy-handed” – and that it ultimately didn’t make a lot of sense.

Many others really enjoyed this book, so I may not be in the majority on this one. (Wouldn’t be the first time!!)

Here are some reviews I found helpful:

Life Is Too Short To Read Bad Books – she didn’t love it

Bookworm with a View – check out the Q&A with the author

A Girl Walks Into A Bookstore – she didn’t love it

S. Krishna’s Books – she was a big fan

My Friend Amy’s Books – she found it “brilliant”

Devourer of Books – she called it “fantastic”


  • June 28, 2009 - 9:13 am | Permalink

    I’m in the ‘didn’t love it’ category. It had its moments but I didn’t think it lived up to its hype.

  • June 28, 2009 - 9:48 am | Permalink

    thanks for both the compliment and the linkage. This book is an anomaly for me and I’m glad I read it even though it wasn’t the best thing ever.

  • June 28, 2009 - 10:29 am | Permalink

    I’ve been wondering about this one. I enjoyed your review as well as that of other bloggers you mention.. Thanks

  • June 28, 2009 - 11:32 am | Permalink

    A lot of bloggers have enjoyed this one, but a real life bookish friend of mine said essentially the same thing you did.

  • June 28, 2009 - 3:52 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy the book! I liked it but it was upon reflection that I realized how much I liked it. Does that even make sense?

  • Nancy West
    June 29, 2009 - 6:49 am | Permalink

    This is exactly the kind of book I normally love — period pieces focusing on domestic life — and I didn’t make it past the first 50 pages. What a disappointment. After reading for the tenth time that even at his (middle-) age, Ralph still had potent sexual urges (imagine that!), I declared that Mr. Goolrick doth protest too much and returned it to the library.
    Upon checking Amazon reviews to see if others concurred, I discovered that the author wrote a highly acclaimed memoir about his own childhood abuse. Has anyone read that?

  • June 29, 2009 - 2:55 pm | Permalink

    I just started this book yesterday. I’m anxious to see who I’ll side with. Isn’t it great that so many people can read the same book and each one come away with something different?

  • June 29, 2009 - 10:45 pm | Permalink

    One of my book clubs is going to read this for August but now I’m not sure I want to. I can’t stand when authors are repetitive or when transformations happen too quickly.

  • June 29, 2009 - 10:53 pm | Permalink

    Hmmm. Interesting – although I didn’t read your review too closely (because I haven’t yet read the book), yours is the first I’ve seen that wasn’t ravingly positive! Thanks for the honest reaction.

  • June 30, 2009 - 3:53 pm | Permalink

    I have yet to read this one but yours if the first negative review I’ve read on it. However, that doesn’t stop me from wanting to read it. I am very suspicious when there is nothing but good on a book.

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