About The Book
He placed a notice in a Chicago paper, an advertisement for “a reliable wife.” She responded, saying that she was “a simple, honest woman.” She was, of course, anything but honest, and the only simple thing about her was her single-minded determination to marry this man and then kill him, slowly and carefully, leaving her a wealthy widow, able to take care of the one she truly loved.
What Catherine Land did not realize was that the enigmatic and lonely Ralph Truitt had a plan of his own. And what neither anticipated was that they would fall so completely in love.
Filled with unforgettable characters, and shimmering with color and atmosphere, A Reliable Wife is an enthralling tale of love and madness, of longing and murder.
“A thrilling, juicy read . . . The writing is beautiful and the story is captivating. It’s a real page-turner.”—Today Show
“A killer debut novel . . . Suspenseful and erotic . . . [A] chillingly engrossing plot . . . Good to the riveting end.” —USA Today
“A buzz-worthy debut novel.”—Wall Street Journal
“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
“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 . . . 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
“Suspenseful . . . jam-packed with delicious twists, turns and surprises from beginning to end . . . Not only a fabulous up-to-the last-minute page-turner about love, lust, lies, deception, heartbreak and resiliency but also a nicely written and elegantly descriptive story . . . Each character’s story is captivating and surprising. You won’t put this book down. It’s that delicious, up until the last page.”—Miami Herald
“[A] beautifully written, beautifully dark book. Goolrick is a superb writer who uses repetition to great effect . . . [The plot’s] twists and turns are a pleasure to navigate, the writing so mesmerizing it makes one wonder whether Goolrick practices; anyone who can turn a sentence fragment into poetry so well has to work at it.”—Chicago Sun-Times
“A dark, shimmering, opalescent novel . . . a book to live in, a book that would have made a great movie for Bette Davis and Claude Rains. A Reliable Wife promises much, and it delivers because it confronts its own ripeness, then grabs it and sprints . . . It’s a strange, shimmering novel, a fever-dream of betrayal and eroticism whose impact remains after the fever has passed.” —Palm Beach Post
Enjoy this video of Robert Goolrick in conversation with Garth Stein at Third Place Books, from December 8, 2011. (Nota Bene: The audio is low for the first ten minutes, so please turn your volume up; the remainder of the video is fine.) To receive an email reminder prior to future events, as well as other news from Algonquin Books, please join our mailing list near the upper right corner of this page.
Reading Group Guide
Questions for Discussion
1. The novel’s setting and strong sense of place seem to echo its mood and themes. What role does the wintry Wisconsin landscape play? And the very different, opulent setting of St. Louis?
2. Ralph and Catherine’s story frequently pauses to give brief, often hor- rific glimpses into the lives of others. Ralph remarks on the violence that surrounds them in Wisconsin, saying, “They hate their lives. They start to hate each other. They lose their minds, wanting things they can’t have” (page 205). How do these vignettes of madness and violence contribute to the novel’s themes?
3. Catherine imagines herself as an actress playing a series of roles, the one of Ralph’s wife being the starring role of a lifetime. Where in the novel might you see a glimpse of the real Catherine Land? Do you feel that you ever get to know this woman, or is she always hidden behind a facade?
4. The encounter between Catherine and her sister, Alice, is one of the piv- otal moments of the novel. How do you view these two women after reading the story of their origins? Why do the two sisters wind up on such different paths? Why does Catherine ultimately lose hope in Alice’s redemption?
5. The idea of escape runs throughout the novel. Ralph thinks, “Some things you escape . You don’t escape the things, mostly bad, that just happen to you” (pages 5–6). What circumstances trap characters permanently? How do characters attempt to escape their circumstances? When, if ever, do they succeed? How does the bird imagery that runs through the book relate to the idea of imprisonment and escape?
6. “You can live with hopelessness for only so long before you are, in fact, hopeless,” reflects Ralph (page 8). Which characters here are truly hopeless? Alice? Antonio? Ralph himself? Do you see any glimmers of hope in the story?
7. Why, in your opinion, does Ralph allow himself to be gradually poisoned, even after he’s aware of what’s happening to him? What does this decision say about his character?
8. Why does Catherine become obsessed with nurturing and reviving the “secret garden” of Ralph’s mansion? What insights does this preoccupation reveal about Catherine’s character?
9. Does Catherine live up in any way to the advertisement Ralph places in the newspaper (page 20)? Why or why not?
10. Did you have sympathy for any of the characters? Did this change as time went on?
11. At the onset of A Reliable Wife the characters are not good people. They have done bad things and have lived thoughtlessly. In the end how do they find hope?
12. The author directly or indirectly references several classic novels—by the Brontë sisters, Daphne du Maurier, and Frances Hodgson Burnett, among others. How does A Reliable Wife play with the conventions of these classic Gothic novels? Does the book seem more shocking or provocative as a result.
About The Interviewer
Garth Stein is the author of the New York Times best-selling novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain. Born in Los Angeles and raised in Seattle, Garth’s ancestry is diverse: his mother, a native of Alaska, is of Tlingit Indian and Irish descent; his father, a Brooklyn native, is the child of Jewish emigrants from Austria. After spending his childhood in Seattle and then living in New York City for 18 years, Garth returned to Seattle, where he currently lives with his wife, three sons, and their dog, Comet. You can read more about him at www.garthstein.com.
Join us on March 3, 7:00pm EST, as Stephen King interviews Lauren Grodstein about her bestselling novel, A Friend of the Family. During the live webcast you’ll be able to chat with other book club participants and even submit questions to be answered during the live event.