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Monday, June 27, 2011

The Reliable Wife

The Reliable Wife
Robert Goolrick
Algonquin, 2009

It is 1907 in rural Wisconsin. Wealthy businessman Ralph Truitt has advertised for a “reliable wife” and Catherine Land has come from Chicago to answer his ad. But she is not what Ralph is expecting. Ralph has advertised for a plain woman to be his wife – someone who is dependable and sturdy enough to withstand the harsh Wisconsin winters. While Catherine is much prettier than he wanted, she proves herself to be a worthy and hardy person who must nurse him through a dangerous illness, thereby earning his love and devotion. What Ralph doesn’t know is that Catherine has an ulterior motive: she plans to win this man’s love, then slowly poison him and inherit his wealth. What she has not figured into the equation is falling in love with him before she can finish her plan.

This would be a lovely book to read in the heat of summer because the author’s descriptions of the extreme cold practically crackle off the pages. It is so cold that Ralph and Catherine’s intimacy must melt the ice off the roof of their house. It is so cold that people’s brains become addled and they commit suicide in odd ways. It is so cold that Catherine starts to rethink her plans, even if it means her husband will discover that she is slowly killing him with arsenic. It is so cold that you may need to take a walk outside in 112 degree heat just to take the chill off.

I liked this book. I liked the way the author made me smell cold. I liked the complex relationship that Catherine and Ralph developed. They grew to trust and respect each other despite the many ways they each betrayed the other. I liked the ending best of all -- and I think you will too.


This is the author’s first novel.

Other titles you may enjoy:

Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian (2010)
Haunted by the final words of a newly baptized congregation member who was subsequently murdered by her husband, the Reverend Stephen Drew abandons his pulpit to spend time with an author who writes best-selling books about angels.

The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig (2006)
Hired as a housekeeper to work on the early 1900s Montana homestead of widower Oliver Milliron, the irreverent Rose and her brother, Morris, endeavor to educate the widower's sons while witnessing local efforts on a massive irrigation project.

A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O’Nan (1999)
A diphtheria epidemic breaks out in a small town in post-Civil War Wisconsin and as people die Jacob Hansen, the community's sheriff and pastor, buries the dead and burns buildings.


  1. I'll add this to my ever-growing list of books to read! Sounds good!

  2. I listened to this on the Audio book, and was not impressed. I think I will retry, reading it. On these hot summer days, feeling COLD sounds delightful!