I picked up A Reliable Wife on impulse. I was at the bookstore for another reason, yet the “staff pick” was a bit of a tease: “you haven’t read this book yet?” Poison and passion in a small town in Wisconsin in 1907, hadn’t read anything like that recently, so heck, why not?
Goolrick spins a pretty good tale here. Ralph Truitt, a rich small town industrialist, advertises for a wife in a Chicago paper. He selects Catherine who describes herself as a simple honest woman, and who enclosed a photo that shows a plain woman. As the back cover suggests, she is none of the above.
It is winter, and everything feels cold. Everyone in town works for Truitt’s enterprises, many going mad from the combination of soul-sucking poverty, desolation, cold, and unsafe working conditions. Truitt waits for Catherine at the train station, and when he sees a woman who looks nothing like the photograph, he smells a rat. Of course it would be too simple if he simply put her back on the train, and of course he doesn’t.
Truitt has spent much of his life fighting his sexual desires, raised to believe his sexual desires were the result of his own wickedness, and still longing for warmth and love. Catherine longs for both love and wealth, and she’s only expecting to obtain one of those things from Truitt.
The book is a page turner, and although I read it at home, I could see it as an excellent antidote for hours of air travel.