A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
It isn’t surprising to me that reviews of A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick are mixed in reaction. Just as some people enjoy watching CNN’s Headline News and other people find it ghoulish and cheap; some people will find this book captivating, while others simply find it depressing.
I am also not surprised that I enjoyed the book as much as I did. I have always had an affinity for books that provide extensive descriptions; for me, how well I come to know the setting of the story directly influences how invested I feel in it.
As you begin reading, resist any first inclinations to put it down and turn on an episode of Criminal Minds instead. The story may start off a little slow, but for me it grew as it went along, so give it a chance. You can always catch up on your DVR after the a few chapters, if you still aren’t feeling it.
The elements of the book are compelling. For me, this book was about finding yourself. Not in the most common, coming-of-age type of story. This is about finding yourself as you age, as time has passed, when it feels like all else is lost. Finding yourself after you have made mistakes and had substantial relationships. The characters find themselves, and it is different selves than they imagined after so much time.
Is it necessary to like the characters, or to believe they are good people? For me, it isn’t. There are many flawed characters in books, and they can be well-rounded and substantial. These characters expect for little of themselves. Catherine is surprised when she does something good, or kind, or resists falling into her past haunts. Each person seems to believe their flaws or sins are worse than those of others. It is almost arrogant how they each believe they more damaged than anyone else.
While not as polished and perfected in a technical sense as some similar books, perhaps written by more experienced and published authors, it is a solid book and one I was willing to sacrifice a bit of sleep to keep reading. There are things to be critical of. The author uses shock value, which can feel like a cheap ploy, with sudden violent images or shocking outcomes.
There is bleakness to the setting, reminiscent of Cold Mountain, and an honesty of characters and exploration of the sudden pitch into insanity like that of House of Sand and Fog. For me, that bleakness and harsh reality in books often comes as a relief, and feels honest. The stark beauty of the setting can feel refreshing and different, when so many stories stick with lovely, positive, and warm descriptive language.
To balance out the harshness, there is hope or redemption. The characters feel an obligation to care for, love, or save others; Catherine to Alice, and Ralph to Antonio. Each character believes they are deceiving others, and deceives themselves. Catherine repeatedly tells herself she is playing a role, and finds she is more authentic and honest in the part she believed she was acting. Beauty is found among despair – the luxuries, comforts, and the elegance of something as simple as a garden. There is an amazing ability to forgive others so fully, even while not forgiving ourselves.
If you enjoyed the tone of this book, I would also recommend:
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III
A Prayer for Own Meany by John Irving
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
PS: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions are my own, and I have not received compensation for anything written. Keepin’ it real.