Just finished reading Goolrick’s A Reliable Wife. I liked the darn thing, but I'm not sure why anyone is taking it seriously. Maybe they aren't. It is in no way “complex,” as the cover blurb suggests, or “darkly nuanced,” as cited in the Washington Post review. In fact it is a predictable and simple book about three existential characters who derive transcendence through lust to escape the miseries of the past and present. There’s Truitt, the rich, haunted widower. Caroline, the scheming party girl who will never go hungry again. And Antonio, the dissipated prodigal who lives on oysters and champagne. You do the math.
In other words, A Reliable Wife is a smutty romance novel, albeit one that is oddly and brilliantly informed by the world represented in Michael Lesy’s Wisconsin Death Trip. By the end, I felt a real Taylor Caldwell vibe, especially as the novel strenuously attempts to rationalize its horny violence.
In between scenes of damp consuming passion, we learn where the characters came form and how they got to where they are, locally and psychically, but the particulars don’t really add up to anything that matters. For example, early on Caroline sews jewels into her hem only to lose them in the snow after an accident. She spends her free time looking for the jewels. Eventually, the caretaker finds them, but by that time she no longer cares about the jewels. This works as a symbol of her willingness to give over her autonomy, but the literal loss of the jewels has no bearing on the events of the book. I think that’s a problem. Like Alton Brown, I don’t like single use tools.
That said, I recommend it, especially as a super fun companion to the Lesy work.
***reading this post 2 hours later, man it's nasty. But I really enjoyed the book. I guess that, as I work on my own novel and worry about its future, I really grind on what disappoints me in published, well sold books.