A Reliable Wife

( 3264 )

Overview

Rural Wisconsin, 1909. In the bitter cold, Ralph Truitt, a successful businessman, stands alone on a train platform waiting for the woman who answered his newspaper advertisement for "a reliable wife." But when Catherine Land steps off the train from Chicago, she's not the "simple, honest woman" that Ralph is expecting. She is both complex and devious, haunted by a terrible past and motivated by greed. Her plan is simple: she will win this man's devotion, and then, ever so slowly, she will poison him and leave ...
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Overview

Rural Wisconsin, 1909. In the bitter cold, Ralph Truitt, a successful businessman, stands alone on a train platform waiting for the woman who answered his newspaper advertisement for "a reliable wife." But when Catherine Land steps off the train from Chicago, she's not the "simple, honest woman" that Ralph is expecting. She is both complex and devious, haunted by a terrible past and motivated by greed. Her plan is simple: she will win this man's devotion, and then, ever so slowly, she will poison him and leave Wisconsin a wealthy widow. What she has not counted on, though, is that Truitt — a passionate man with his own dark secrets —has plans of his own for his new wife. Isolated on a remote estate and imprisoned by relentless snow, the story of Ralph and Catherine unfolds in unimaginable ways.

With echoes of Wuthering Heights and Rebecca, Robert Goolrick's intoxicating debut novel delivers a classic tale of suspenseful seduction, set in a world that seems to have gone temporarily off its axis.

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Editorial Reviews

USA Today
"A killer debut novel . . . Suspenseful and erotic . . . [A] chillingly engrossing plot . . . Good to the riveting end." —USA Today
The Washington Post
"A gothic tale of . . . smoldering desire . . . The novel is deliciously wicked and tense, presented as a series of sepia tableaux, interrupted by flashes of bright red violence . . . Once you’ve fallen into the miasma of A Reliable Wife, it’s intoxicating." —The Washington Post
NPR's Morning Edition
"Robert Goolrick's A Reliable Wife is my must-read recommendation . . . This engrossing and addictive novel will leave you both chilled and satisfied." —Chris Livingston, Summer's Best reads on NPR’s Morning Edition
Today Show
"A thrilling, juicy read . . . The writing is beautiful and the story is captivating. It’s a real page-turner." —Today show
Minneapolis Star Tribune
"A tantalizing pace that will have you flipping faster and faster through the pages . . . A beautiful and haunting read, a story about all the different manifestations of love—a story that will stay with you." —Minneapolis Star Tribune
Booklist

“Goolrick twists a familiar story, refashioning it into something completely original. . . . Few have permeated their narratives with gothic elements and suspense to such great effect. . . . The unforeseen conclusion provides a big payoff for readers of this tension-laden debut from a promising new talent." - Booklist

Boston Globe

“Debut novelist Robert Goolrick has managed a minor miracle. In the kind of precise, literary prose that breathes life into his complicated characters, Goolrick, author of an acclaimed memoir, has also managed a rousing historical potboiler, an organic mystery rooted in the real social ills of turn-of-the-century America. Whether writing about the farms of Wisconsin or the fleshpots of St. Louis, he re-creates a full-bodied, believable environment, and he peoples these worlds with characters as sensitive, as tortured as any contemporary souls. The result is a detailed exploration of love, despair, and the distance people can travel to reach each other that is as surprising, and as suspenseful, as any beach read.” -- Boston Globe

Christian Science Monitor

A “glittering, poisoned ice cube of a tale . . . Has a little of the Gothic feel of Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca--complete with a dead first wife, suspicious housekeeper, and gorgeous mansion . . . A Reliable Wife is eminently readable and should delight fans of old-fashioned Gothic romances . . . Goolrick is a solid wordsmith, and he handily manages the impressive task of making readers care about a woman bent on cold-blooded murder. And generating the proper Gothic ambience in Wisconsin is no mean feat.” -- Christian Science Monitor

BookPage

A "fierce and sophisticated debut novel . . . In its best moments, A Reliable Wife calls to mind the chilling tales of Poe and Stephen King, and at its core this is a tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions. It melds a plot drenched in suspense with expertly realized characters and psychological realism. The fate of those characters is in doubt right up to this relentless story’s intense final pages, and Goolrick’s ability to sustain that tension is a tribute to his craftsmanship and one of the true pleasures of a fine first novel." -- Bookpage

Time Out New York
“A weighty psychodrama laced with Hitchcockian suspense.”-- Time Out New York
Washington Post

"A gothic tale of . . . smoldering desire. . . . The novel is deliciously wicked and tense, presented as a series of sepia tableaux, interrupted by flashes of bright red violence. . . . Once you've fallen into the miasma of A Reliable Wife, it's intoxicating." –Washington Post

Chicago Sun-Times
"[A] beautifully written, beautifully dark book. Goolrick is a superb writer."—Chicago Sun-Times
Ron Charles
Don't be fooled by the prissy cover or that ironic title. Robert Goolrick's first novel, A Reliable Wife, isn't just hot, it's in heat: a gothic tale of such smoldering desire it should be read in a cold shower. This is a bodice ripper of a hundred thousand pearly buttons, ripped off one at a time with agonizing restraint. It works only because Goolrick never cracks a smile, never lets on that he thinks all this overwrought sexual frustration is anything but the most serious incantation of longing and despair ever uttered in the dead of night.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Set in 1907 Wisconsin, Goolrick's fiction debut (after a memoir, The End of the World as We Know It) gets off to a slow, stylized start, but eventually generates some real suspense. When Catherine Land, who's survived a traumatic early life by using her wits and sexuality as weapons, happens on a newspaper ad from a well-to-do businessman in need of a "reliable wife," she invents a plan to benefit from his riches and his need. Her new husband, Ralph Truitt, discovers she's deceived him the moment she arrives in his remote hometown. Driven by a complex mix of emotions and simple animal attraction, he marries her anyway. After the wedding, Catherine helps Ralph search for his estranged son and, despite growing misgivings, begins to poison him with small doses of arsenic. Ralph sickens but doesn't die, and their story unfolds in ways neither they nor the reader expect. This darkly nuanced psychological tale builds to a strong and satisfying close. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Barnes & Noble Review
Nothing is what it seems in the pages of A Reliable Wife, the debut novel by adman and memoirist Robert Goolrick. What starts as a brooding tale of trickery and betrayal is, in fact, a meditation on loneliness. It has roots that reach far beyond the frigid Wisconsin landscape where the tale is set, and which suck their sustenance from the personal torment of Goolrick's own southern-gothic past.

It's a frigid mid-October night in 1907 and Ralph Truitt, a wealthy industrialist living near the Canadian border, is meeting the train. It carries Catherine Land, his mail-order bride, who answered his newspaper ad for a "reliable wife." As happens in all small towns, Truitt's private business has become public. Waiting on the railroad platform, he's surrounded by curious neighbors, most of whom his mills or mines employ.

Standing in the center of the crowd, his solitude was enormous. He felt that in all the vast and frozen space in which he lived his life -- every hand needy, every heart wanting something from him -- everybody had a reason to be and a place to land. Everybody but him. For him there was nothing. In all the cold and bitter world, there was not a single place for him to sit down.

When the train finally arrives, the exotic beauty who exits the private railroad car Truitt sent to fetch her is clearly not the same woman whose photo he holds in his hand. But with so many curious eyes upon them, Truitt hustles her off to avoid a scene, yet delivers a warning: "This begins in a lie. I want you to know I know that."

We know it, too. Unlike Truitt, we've spent a few days with Catherine on her ride across the prairie, pondering her past and plotting her future. We're privy to enough of her history to know she's hiding lies far more grave than that switched photo. But we share her disadvantage, too. Who is Ralph Truitt? What does a man of such wealth want with an outsider? Sure, Catherine's an amoral schemer, but we have to wonder -- could this stranger she plans to marry already be one step ahead of her?

And so it is, with just a few tantalizing words, that Goolrick, like any copywriter worth his Madison Avenue letterhead, sets the hook and reels us in. We find ourselves in a winter-bound world, the mysteries unfolding as the story veers back and forth in time. Truitt, scarred early on by the religious extremism of his mother, is tormented by a 20-year-old tragedy. Catherine, meanwhile, a courtesan playing the part of a daughter of missionaries, has deadly plans.

If it all sounds like the stuff of melodrama, you're right. But Goolrick's spare and elegant prose keeps the swirling secrets and repressed emotions of A Reliable Wife from turning into a pulpy, weepy mess. As the author proved in his well-received memoir, The End of the World as We Know It, he's not one to flinch from upsetting or unsavory details.

The first and final thirds of the novel, almost purely plot-driven, race by against a backdrop of stunning visual detail. The vast, white landscape, the relentless cold, the isolation, all offer a delicious mood of foreboding. You half expect Mrs. Danvers to pop out of a cupboard somewhere, hissing that Rebecca still rules this roost. But in the middle section, things go slack. The story turns inward and quickly bogs down. Catherine's sordid past is laid out and Truitt's anguish is explored. As we learn what drives these greedy, grasping and ultimately damaged characters, we're treated to some extended navel-gazing.

Truitt, it turns out, is a sensualist. But at the hands of his nut case of a mother, highlighted by a brief and vivid scene of torture, he has been taught to abhor his own appetites. As a result, there's a fixated, almost fetishistic quality to the language in the love scenes. Goolrick turns paragraphs into incantations. Here's Truitt, longing for Catherine:

He wanted to touch her. He wanted to see the exhaustion of sex in every gesture. He wanted to unpin her hair in a warm room, and lift a pristine nightdress over her head. He wanted to feel the first touch of his hand on her smooth, dry skin.

And a page later:

He wanted to hear the sounds that came from her throat when she had no breath left, when she was breathless with desire.

There's more, lots more. Truitt states and restates his hunger, repeats words, circles back, repeats again, returns obsessively to the same thought until the even simplest wish for the most mundane contact takes on the taint of sin. It's hard not to think, then, about Goolrick's memoir, which lays out, quite matter-of-factly, a horrific scene of sexual abuse.

But this is a novel, after all, and Goolrick has more up his sleeve. The various mysteries unravel, to good and quite surprising effect. Truitt's past meets up with Catherine's present. Both find themselves tested. Goolrick himself lays out the basis for his tale:

It was just a story of how the bitter cold gets into your bones and never leaves you, of how the memories get into your heart and never leave you alone, of the pain and the bitterness of what happens to you when you're small and have no defenses but still know evil when it happens, of secrets about evil you have no one to tell, of the life you live in secret, knowing your own pain and the pain of others but helpless to do anything other than the things you do, and the end it all comes to.

Sounds mighty bleak, but there's one more twist in store. The true surprise in this dark and richly textured novel isn't in the labyrinth of secrets, or even in their revelations. It's in the ending, an unexpected moment of hope which gives the characters, and one imagines, Goolrick himself, a final -- or is it first? -- chance for love. --Veronique de Turenne

Veronique de Turenne is a Los Angeles?based journalist, essayist, and playwright. Her literary criticism appears on NPR and in major American newspapers. One of the highlights of her career was interviewing Vin Scully in his broadcast booth at Dodger Stadium, then receiving a handwritten thank-you note from him a few days later.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781565129771
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Publication date: 1/5/2010
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 147,458
  • Product dimensions: 5.58 (w) x 8.02 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Goolrick
Robert Goolrick is the author of two books: The End of the World as We Know It, a memoir, and his first novel, A Reliable Wife. He lives in Virginia.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 3264 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(595)

4 Star

(913)

3 Star

(865)

2 Star

(463)

1 Star

(428)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 3271 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 4, 2009

    Well! That was interesting!

    I really recommend this book if you are the least intrigued by it, two thumbs up. These two main characters are anything but the face they are showing each other. They EACH have baggage. This is anything but a simple, sweet story. This is an easy book to fall into, a fast beginning. The writing is compelling, very descriptive, indeed. The characters are all repressed and strange, trying to appear normal. The steamy sex scenes were unexpected, and well, intriguing. There are some murderous notions, too. There are many surprises as we read of extravagance and material wastefulness beyond our wildest dreams. Dysfunctional relationships. There were a couple drops in the story, like turbulence on a plane, as I felt built up, then...bla, bla, and that's that. Yet, as we learned, "such things happen", and perhaps that was intended. The author, though, does a fine job keeping us connected and packing in quite a lot of action in what seems to be about a 6-month roller coaster ride.

    41 out of 48 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    HOW DID THIS GET TO BE SO POPULAR

    The characters are thin, the plot thin, the writing thin, i just didn't get it! There wasn't one thing I liked about this book and it was our book club selection, our group of 12 all agreed this was our weakest to date! and all the gratuitous sex,

    32 out of 49 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 15, 2010

    Worst book ever!

    I read a book a week and this one tops my list of worst reads ever. I stayed with it thinking it would improve~which it didn't. If you are looking for a depressing read about sex, death, deception and mental illness you should consider reading it. Otherwise don't waste your money. Do NOT recommend.

    31 out of 41 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 30, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Don't be fooled by the first chapter!

    I read the sample first chapter, and I was intrigued. The next couple of chapters were interesting, too, and so I kept reading. By the time I realized that I hated this book, I was 100 pages into it and then felt I had to finish. (I hate it when that happens.)

    The writing drove me crazy. To describe the soon-to-be husband's desire, just about every sentence for 5 pages started with, "He wanted..." As in, "He wanted to speak to her of his desire, he wanted to undress her, he wanted to unbutton, he wanted to see her step out of her chemise, he wanted to lead her to his bed, he wanted to pull back the coverlet, he wanted to hold her face, he wanted to kiss her, he wanted her to want all this and he wanted her to fear it, he wanted her to submit..." This goes on for pages and pages while I was saying to myself, "I get it! He's horny!" And when I thought it couldn't get any worse, I read this incredible sentence:

    "He wanted to slice her open and lie inside the warm blood of her body."

    How romantic! Say what?

    The female lead is more interesting, but still badly drawn. She seems to change her persona just by changing her dress. Characters are briefly introduced and then discarded - I didn't understand why, except maybe to fill in more pages between the "He wanted" and "She thought" sentences. None of the "surprises" surprised me.

    Skip it!

    27 out of 31 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 17, 2010

    Reliable?

    The clerk was raving about this book. For the life of me I can't see why. I will admit I liked his style of writing (It was all that kept me reading.) All anyone thinks about in this book is sex. I'm no prude but it was non-stop. I really didn't care about the characters; I felt they all deserved each other. If this reliable wife had one thought that was her own, maybe I could have bought into the premise. I was totally disappointed with the book. Take a pass on this.

    23 out of 32 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Liked the plot but not the writing

    The plot seemed so intriguing: an older, rich businessman from early 1900s rural Wisconsin puts a mail-order bride ad in the paper. Answering it is a young and beautiful woman with a mysterious past. She journeys to meet him, and the two try to make a life for themselves in the frozen and desolate countryside. Such an interesting plot, how could this book go wrong?!

    Well...it does, and right from the start. The writing is just awful. I don't mean in a "gosh, this writing style is a bit annoying" kind of way, but in an "how in the heck did this book ever manage to get published?" sort of way. It is truly one of the worst written books I have ever read. And it's not even one specific thing I can mention that was bad, but just an all-over mess. I somehow managed to finish the entire thing (although I admit I skimmed here and there) just because otherwise I would feel guilty for leaving a negative review if I hadn't read it all. So now I can leave my negative review with a clear conscience;-).

    17 out of 23 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2010

    Curiously compelling

    I was loaned this book by a friend. The first chapter or two felt dreary, and I wasn't sure I would carry on; but when I put it down, I felt a need to see if it continued in the same vein, or if something would actually happen. I've had similar experiences with other books and never returned to them, so I can only conclude that there is something enticing in the writing style Goolrick utilises - it has a different tone from most modern fiction; or even historical fiction.
    Difficult to explain why the book pulls you in, but it seems to with most people. The characters are puzzling, but not warm - there is no reason for you to really engage with them, yet you find you want to know what will happen to them.
    My sister couldn't put this book down either, but my mother hated it - and she reads pretty much anything...so it's difficult to really tell what attracts about this book.
    But it is curiously compelling, in my own opinion - and I'm usually more of a fantasy or historical fiction reader.

    14 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2010

    Terrible!

    This was a hugely disappointing read. I rarely buy books new and prefer them used at 2nd hand stores, but was excited to read the good reviews and the story seemed interesting so I splurged on this one and want my money back. It's very obvious that Mr. Goolrick has no understanding of how to write women and spends WAY too much time writing about sex and not enough on character development. This book should be re-characterized under harlequin fiction!

    13 out of 18 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2010

    Was able to finish this...but barely

    The characters in this book were so incredibly unrealistic that it made it hard to get behind any of them, whether they were "good" or "evil." You just couldn't believe any of their actions or the motivations behind them, and that made the book seem kind of pointless. Also agree with other reviews that the writing style was repetitive and just bad. And I thought I was going to LOVE this book, because the plot, the whole "gothic" thing, and the historical aspect really appealed to me. what a disappointment. DON'T WASTE YOUR MONEY OR TIME. if you want a "juicy" but decently written historical drama go for The Other Boleyn Girl by phillipa gregory. that is a page turner. this is not.

    12 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2010

    Awful

    This book was truly terrible. Not only was the writing style a bit wonky (he moved from reminiscence to months later with no segue frequently), but the characters were ALL terrible. Well developed, yes. I'll give him that. But it's a story of sad, lonely, and desperate people doing terrible and desperate things. There's no redemption. It really was NOT worth the money. Or the time. Or the brain space required. I've never written a review for a book before, but this book was bad enough that I wanted to warn people- DO NOT READ THIS BOOK!

    11 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2010

    Well written but depressing.

    My book club read this one and we found it to be depressing. The author seems to think EVERYONE in this time period is cruel, depressed, and not having much fun. We liked how she ended up being a reliable wife, but thought letting him get that sick was taking it a little too far.

    9 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 6, 2010

    Knock-off of the movie "The Original Sin"

    When I started reading this book, I couldn't help but think of the similarities to the movie "The Original Sin" (2001) starring Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas. I was really shocked. It would have been a good book except for that fact that I've already seen it so it wasn't anything new. Kept thinking, what a knock-off. And one thing, too much sexual yearning that it became sickening.

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 7, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A touching unusual book

    A very lonely and wounded man sets out to find a wife after years of being alone. He places an ad in a newspaper and a few women responded. He picks one and she shows up. They both have tragic past lives and can not share their thoughts and feelings with ease. Is there a happy ever after? I really enjoyed this book because it has great writing skill and I felt concern for the characters as I kept turning the pages. When I first picked this book up I did not think I would enjoy it as much as I did! What a pleasant surprise.

    8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 22, 2010

    Tedious

    I found this book to be a difficult read, and like other reviewers, I do not understand how it got to be on anyone's best seller list. I continued reading the book in the hopes that it would get better, but it never delivered. The plot was ridiculous, Goolick's writing style was tedious.the book was disappointing to say the least!

    7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 28, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Story About Despair

    A small town in Wisconsin at the turn of the 20th century is the location for this story. The winters are cruel and life is hard. Citizens are driven mad and turn on their loved ones or die by their own hands. Death is an expected and accepted occurrence. Against this backdrop the tale of A Reliable Wife is told.

    Ralph Truitt is a man who has tried to atone for his own past mistakes. He laments the loss of his unfaithful wife and the death of his daughter. He rues his mistreatment of a man he considers to be his son. He now has money and power but alas he longs for a female companion to share his house and his bed. Out of desperation, he places an ad asking for "A Reliable Wife."

    Catherine Land is a young woman who answers the call. She arrives in snowy Wisconsin leaving behind her checkered past and greets her future husband. Ralph desires companionship and a bed partner but Catherine has definite plans of her own. Along with her meager belongings, she brings a plan to obtain wealth which she wants to share with the young lover she has left behind. But before Catherine can begin to implement her plan, Ralph asks her to travel to Saint Louis to bring back his long lost son.

    Antonio Moretti is the runaway son Catherine has been instructed to bring back to Ralph. Antonio has lived a debauched life in Saint Louis since running away from home. Beer halls, opium dens and meaningless affairs have become his mainstays of life. In her search for Antonio, Catherine finds herself revisiting parts of her own past that she would like to forget.

    A Reliable Wife is a story of tortured souls. The book weaves a tragic tale between these three main characters as they each search for a future that surely must be brighter than their past. But sadly, there is very little brightness in this story. From the harsh winters of Wisconsin to the seediness of the back alleys of Saint Louis, this story is the epitome of bleakness.

    The book is very well written. The author's writing is almost poetic in style. The story takes you from one character to another and from one location to another in a smooth transition. You are given great insight into the innermost demons these characters possess so you are well aware of the reasons behind their actions. But readers beware; this is not a happy story.

    A story can be sad and cause the reader to shed a tear. A story can be tragic and evoke emotions beyond tears. This story goes beyond sadness and tragedy. This story is bleak and depressing. Even when the characters struggle to overcome their tainted past, there is always a feeling of gloom. The last sentence of chapter 24 summed it up best. "It was just a story about despair".

    6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2010

    Too Freudian

    I would not recomend this book. None of the charecters were likeable the plot was a bit of a reach and it was just a little bit disturbing. I pass books back and forth with family and friends but this one is going strait to the used book store. To much about sexual hangups and to little to find interesting. I like historical fiction and was expecting more about the living conditions day-to-day activities, environment, etc. The main charecter was creapy his "wife" was weak and his son was just boring. I just wouldn't bother with this book. I would have stoped reading but at the time it was the only new book I had available so I'm sorry to say I finished it.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 26, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    enjoyable

    i enjoyed this book. there were a few twists that i didn't see coming. for those readers who suffer from winter blues, don't read it. i actually liked the cold wisconsin setting. the characters kind of match the desolate location. i will pass this novel along for others to read.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 23, 2010

    A must read for anyone interested in character analysis with flare.

    A poignantly provocative book with prose that pulls at your very soul in the characters' desperate attempt for reconciliation with their alter egos.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 21, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Hooked me from the start

    Very interesting plot, with unexpected twists. I was interested in the characters from the start.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 20, 2010

    Easy Read

    I read this book on the train to and from NYC. The intrigue kept buiiding page by page as the characters showed their true nature and the ending was a true surprise. I really enjoyed reading "A Reliable Wife" and will look forward to Mr. Goolrick's next novel!

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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