On one cold winter in Wisconsin, 1907, Ralph Truitt awaits his mail-order bride at the train station. All he has are a photo, of a plain innocent-looking woman, and letters from her. The woman who steps off the train is too beautiful, instantly causing Ralph to be suspicious, but he’s been unloved for far too long, and in any case has a mission for his new wife. He wants Catherine Land to persuade his son, Antonio, to return to him, for a final chance at forgiveness. But he has no idea how complex the ties are truly between him and his new wife, nor the conspiracies which soon crop up amongst these three very different people.
This book, while bleak, is surprisingly addictive. Goolrick’s tone throughout is contemplative, which perfectly fits the winter atmosphere and the secret, devious plots that the characters harbor and then keep from each other. It’s well-paced, with everything revealed at just the right moment, enough to keep me stuck to the page while I waited for the next revelation, the next step in the plan. I couldn’t say I liked any of the characters, but I did appreciate the story itself very much.
One important warning; if you’re a bit squeamish about sex, this is not the book for you. The characters are very explicit in their thoughts and actions and much of their relationships are actually based on sex. I’d argue that it’s got more in there than many romance novels I’ve read, and certainly more than the ones I prefer. The whole book is charged through with it. It’s a dark gothic romance without any little details actually left out, and in my opinion it’s best approached that way. But the beauty of the story is truly that both characters learn that sex and desire aren’t love, that marriage isn’t easy, and without so much emphasis on the physical side of things, I’m not sure it would have the same impact.
To make it all that much better, Catherine, despite being a prostitute and very uneducated, adores books and knowledge, and her time spent in the library is some of the happiest of her life. Though I never really cared all that much about the characters, this one little thing did help quite a bit towards making me like her. It’s just one of those little signs that she hasn’t let the circumstances of her life destroy her spirit, and as a result I kept hoping for a good chance for her and a bit of redemption by the end.
A Reliable Wife was an intoxicating read; suspenseful plot, moving emotions, and fantastic setting. It may be a little bit too racy for some, and I never quite fell in love with the characters, so I can’t recommend it whole-heartedly, but it was nevertheless for me an excellent book.
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