Monday, January 24, 2011

A Reliable Wife

I have a love-hate relationship with the neighborhood book club. Basically, I love the snacks and hate most of the selected books.

Actually “hate” is too strong a word since I don’t manage to get around to reading most of the books. If the selection is too scholarly or lengthy, I won’t even seek out a copy at the library. I have far more important things to do, like catch up on “Real Housewives” marathons.

And if a book doesn’t grab me at the start, I don’t feel compelled to keep reading it (which is why I’m still not even 50 pages into The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; I keep hoping I’ll be stranded somewhere long enough that I’ll have no choice but to get to the parts that I’m promised will suck me into the story).

So when my neighbor offered me her library copy of this month’s selection, I figured I’d page through it, then pass it along to someone more worthy. I sure didn’t expect to be sucked in so much that I finished it over one evening and morning, reading pretty much nonstop. It certainly helped that it was written in true “potboiler” style, but the characters turned out to be compelling, too.

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick involves the arranged marriage of Ralph Truitt, a wealthy small-town businessman in turn-of-the-century Wisconsin who advertises for “a reliable wife, compelled by practical, not romantic reasons.” Catherine Lands answers the ad – but this is no Sarah, Plain and Tall. Both Ralph and Catherine have sordid pasts that contributed to their desperate present circumstances. While Ralph is forthcoming about the good, bad and (very) ugly of his history, Catherine is nothing close to how she has presented herself to her new spouse.

The narrative moves along at a good clip, so I won’t go into the plot any further. I will say, however, that the author does a very good job of presenting very complete characters. The reader isn’t thoroughly repulsed by character faults and weaknesses, and character development comes about very organically. Ralph, Catherine, and others who play heavily in the story have nothing to recommend them, but we are led to understand and accept why they are as they are, and how their traits and experiences influence the story.

It was also very interesting to read what could be loosely considered an historical romance that’s written by a man, not a woman. Sex plays heavily in this story, and it’s not the romance-driven sex of your typical bodice-ripper; nor is it a Victorian-era “Penthouse.” It is the blunt, sometimes graphic viewpoint of a typical male, and as a reader who isn’t into romance as a genre, I found that refreshing.

From a historical standpoint, the author was inspired by works about madness running rampant through small towns in the early 20th century. In an era of both innovation and desperation, people from all walks of life were drawn to unspeakable acts. I’m now interested in delving deeper into this time period; the author’s note mentions a book that inspired the novel’s setting, and I plan to check it out.

Best of all, this month at book club I won't be the attitude problem in the corner, hoarding the snacks.

1 comment:

  1. I read this one a few months back and also enjoyed it a lot. What's next on the docket???? I'm trudging through "The Girl Who Played With Fire", even though I'm told it's the best of the trilogy. Like you, Real Housewives takes priority most nights. That and sleep. XOXO