By February 8, 2012 0 Comments Read More →

A Reliable Wife

Am I the only person who enjoys long delays in airports because it is just a good excuse to get more pages read?

On a recent trip, I packed three physical objects previously known as “books” and took off on vacation.  What I liked about this trip was that it worked out that I pretty much read one book on the way down, one there and one on the way back.  My method of packing for these trips because I still read physical objects previously known as “books” is to take books I have acquired that do not have to come back with me.  This often means my reading material is off a very deep and dusty TBR pile.

This trip the best book in the lot was A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick.  This was in my TBR pile because it is set in Wisconsin, my home state.  Very early into the experience, I found myself thinking that Goolrick must have read Michael Lesy’s Wisconsin Death Trip, a weird book from the early ’70’s that still creeps me out a little.  Bascially, if you want to know how rural residents died in despair in the 19th century, this is your book.

“It was just a story about despair.”  (pg. 281)

That line from late in the tale told in A Reliable Wife sums up the thematic content of this novel without spoiling the story line.  Readers will know they are reading a downer right from the opening paragraphs.   Each character in this book suffers from something and the despair of choice makes for compelling reading.

If the thematic tone were not enough, Goolrick is a rich writer of many talents.  His choices are not always obvious and his use of langue is exquisite.  While the book could be described as dense, it does not read that way because it is masterfully told. 

Then there is the cold frigid landscape of northern rural Wisconsin in 1907.  The environment entraps the tale.  In addition, the story also mainly takes place in a gothic palace of long lost desires that chills the atmosphere as well.

Yes, this is a sad book but readers will enjoy it and want to discuss it.  If for no other read



About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

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