Book Review: A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

16 Mar

Genre: Literary fiction

Publisher: Algonquin Books

Pub date: 7 April 2009

Source: Personal copy

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: Mark Feuerstein

If I were to judge the book by its title alone, there is a very good chance that I would have never opted to read it. But this was one of the most popular audiobooks on, so I decided to give it a listen.

Set in the wintry cold of Wisconsin in 1909, this is a story of lust, revenge, redemption and survival. This is really the first audiobook I’ve listened to since Winnie the Pooh and I confess, I’m hooked!


Catherine Land answers Ralph Truitt’s personal ad in a Chicago newspaper for “a reliable wife.” She is determined to have money and love in her life and sees this marriage as a chance to have at least one of those things.

Ralph Truitt wants not to be alone anymore. He wants a simple woman to share his home and life. But he also has another plan for this wife and sees her as a means to get forgiveness.

Neither of them is being truthful and they both have no idea of the way their relationship will develop. Can they find true happiness and have a real marriage or will their sordid pasts get in the way of their life together?


I can’t say too much about the book without giving away the plot, and that is something I want to avoid. I went into it knowing very little of the story and that worked brilliantly for me.

This is also a tale of suspense and a very well-told one. Nothing is as it seems – Ralph Truitt has been in purgatory since his wife died 20 years ago. The son of a highly religious woman who equates sexual appetite with sin, his idea of carnal pleasure is skewed and in a way that is what drives him, to despair more often than not.

Catherine has presented herself as a simple woman when replying to Truitt’s ad in the newspaper, but she has hidden depths and a murky past.

None of the characters are easy to like, but I found myself completely immersed in their stories, reproaching them when they made choices that I thought were stupid.

A Reliable Wife is also classified as a Gothic novel. The cold, icy landscape is almost a character in this dark novel – we hear reports of people going mad and killing themselves or each other in th elong winter when it seems like there is no escapse from the cold and the snow and dreariness.

This is a story of appetites – sexual, vengeance, love, apology.

I never put up warnings about explicit content, but in this case, I have to mention that there is a lot of sex in the book – real and imagined. In a way these sensual desires drive the characters, so it’s not out of place at all. But if that’s something that makes you uncomfortable, then this book is not for you.

The refrain of  “These things happened” is often used through the narrative to refer to madness and murder, despair and longing. As I went along though, I started hoping that we would also get to hear it referring to redemption and forgiveness.


Definitely recommended. Evocative, dark story that will have you rooting for redemption and peace.

This is a provocative story – utterly sensual and sexual and the language is beautiful. I was thrilled with the narration. Hearing the words also allowed me to savour the language and the style.

Rating: 5*

*See my Rating policy

Do you agree with my review, or do you think I’m way off? Just want to say hi? Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

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2 Responses to “Book Review: A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick”


  1. A Reliable Wife « Reading Lounge - March 31, 2011

    […] Book Review: A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick ( […]

  2. 2011: Bookish Snapshots « Stargazerpuj's Book Blog - December 30, 2011

    […] Road by Sorayya Khan The Poisonwood Bible by Barbra Kingsolver Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick The Coffins of Little Hope by Timothy Schaffert An Atlas of Impossible Longing […]

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