A Reliable Wife * by Robert Goolrick
I’m joining Jain in her bi-monthly edible book review at Food for Thought, where in her words, pages from your book magically mix with the kitchen and your camera. Books, Food & Photos, my three favorite things all in one place!
“Sometimes…we work very hard at something, we exhaust ourselves to accomplish something that seems vital to us. Our best hope for happiness. And sometimes we find that thing, only to find it has simply not been worth the effort.”
Boy, did this quote leap off the page at me. I worked very hard to finish this book!
This book has had a lot of hype. From the reviews I read, to the sales staff at Borders, who on multiple visits, all recommended the book while I was checking out. I finally caved, instead of waiting for it patiently to arrive in my Paperback Swap account. (Did I mention I wasn’t very patient?) It was an effort to finish this book.
I kept waiting for the payoff and the big reveal. I kept plugging along, thinking, it’s got to get better. (Cursing the Borders’ sales staff under my breath :-) There was no great surprise for me. Instead of intoxicating, thrilling, and engrossing, I found it dark, tiresome, and repetitive.
I did find it interesting, that out of 321 reviews on Amazon, there are almost as many 1 *reviews (95) as there are 5* reviews (100). You either loved this book or you hated it.
The quote is key regarding the three main characters, each personally. What they are each pursuing, “their best hope for happiness”, is pivotal to the story.
This story takes place in Wisconsin in 1907.
Ralph Truitt places an ad in the newspaper:
Catherine Land arrives by train to meet Ralph Truitt: “I am a simple, honest woman.”
Truitt realizes as soon as Catherine steps off the train, he has been deceived.
Truitt: “This begins in a lie. I want you to know I know that.”
The three main characters in this book, Ralph Truitt, Catherine Land, and Antonio, (Ralph’s son), all have their own agendas.
“He was a man used to getting what he wanted. Since his first staggering losses twenty years before, his wife, his children, his heart’s best hopes and his last lavish fantasies, he had come to see the implacabiltiy of his own expectations as the only defense against the terrors he felt. It worked pretty well most of the time. He was relentless, and the people of the town respected that, feared it even.”
“Catherine Land liked the beginnings of things. The pure white possibility of the empty room, the first kiss, the first swipe at larceny. And endings, she liked endings, too. The drama of the smashing glass, the dead bird, the tearful goodbye, the last awful word which could never be unsaid or unremembered. It was the middles that gave her pause.”
“Antonio wanted so much. He wanted for most of his childhood never to have happened. He wanted his mother to have been faithful and beautiful and virtuous. he wanted her to have cared for him. He wanted her to have taken him with her when she ran away, giving him more than the idiot sister and the terrifying father who was not his father. He wanted the days of his boyhood to have been different.”
Truitt puts Catherine on a train to St. Louis to bring his son back.
“She had the librarians bring her gigantic books of botanical illustrations, hand-colored etchings showing the plants she read about, and she memorized what she saw, stamen and pistil and petal and leaf. She had the beginning of an idea. It was an idea that seemed so comforting to her, so small and simple and comforting, to restore the walled garden, to watch it grow and make it her own. A place where she would be safe, where the world would be locked out.”
“She had wanted something, and she had set out to get it, clear of her purpose and sure in her actions. But it had gotten confused, confused in the mass of the ordinary, confused in the way people live, in the way the heart attracts and repels the things it wants and fears. Her own heart had gone out in directions she never imagined, her hopes had become pinned to the things she would never have allowed.”
A description of Antonio:
“His eyes were as black as the Wisconsin River, and just as cold. He existed, or seemed to exist, only for himself, for that moment in time when he ate his oysters and drank his champagne, aware that he was being stared at by every woman who sipped the details of his face and his body as he sipped his champagne, with obvious pleasure.”
Everyone eats oysters in this book, primarily Antonio, but even Truitt craves them and eats a dozen every night at one point. I could have eaten a dozen a night when all was said and done…as a reward, for finishing this book. We found some at an unlikely place that gets them fresh weekly, that my mother-in-law told us about. My husband cracked them open for me, and I ran to the computer in search of a recipe on Food Network from none other than, you guessed it, Tyler Florence.
“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.”
I enjoy this so much more when I have a great book to share. Part of me feels like I should only share the books I do love or that speak to me in some way. I postponed reviewing this book for that very reason. I had originally intended to include it in Jain’s last batch of reviews. I had saved a champagne bottle from Valentine’s Day, and then tossed it in the recycling bin in disgust at the thought. I wasn’t sure I even wanted to revisit this cast of characters for a review. I guess all-in-all, this Edible Review wasn’t a total train wreck (did you like my pun?)–I got great oysters, an easy and great new recipe, and a new local place that I now know where to buy them fresh. Plus, I got to play with my husband’s uncle’s Lionel Toy Train that hasn’t been touched for forty-some years, that my mother-in-law had on her book shelf.