By Robert Goolrick
A Reliable Wife is apparently a quintessential workplace “water cooler” book. It was among the books literally stacked on top of the water cooler at my old job, and is one of the books in my new job’s kitchen (though on a table diagonal from the actual water cooler). I had admired the cover (I like the maroon and gray color scheme) and read the back blurb* several times while filling my water bottle, but had been reluctant to read it. It sounded like it could go two different ways, either a high-brow character portrait or a low-brow romance, and I like to at least claim that I don’t enjoy either, though I’ve been known to indulge in both.
I had asked a coworker whether this was an inspirational, love-conquers-all kind of story, and she said no, but I wasn’t entirely sure I believed her. Then, my previous book, the fifth in the Lady Julia Gray series, made me so irritated with romantic leads that I decided I wanted a book with at least the possibility of two people in a relationship scheming against each other until one kills the other (I wasn’t even that particular about who killed who, though I’m usually pretty biased toward the wife).
Anyway, without spoilers, it is not really a love-conquers-all story, though it could perhaps stretch to be interpreted that way. It is a bit of both high-brow and low-brow, and I really enjoyed it! There is lots of character portraiture of the two main protagonists, background to demonstrate how they each got to be at this current point in their lives, interspersed with some fairly unexpected intrigue and deceit. It was not exactly the book I was looking for when I started to read it, but I was quickly engaged and then satisfied with it in the end.
In addition, this book is all about sex. The characters all have sex, talk about sex, imagine having sex, imagine other people having sex, etc. Sex drives most of the characters and their motives most of the time. I’m always kind of on the fence about reading about sex; it often makes me feel uncomfortably voyeuristic. At the same time, it is a fragile story of two very damaged people coming together and trying to do right by each other and themselves, which resonated a bit more for me than all the sex.
P.S. – This book is also ALL about the small tragedies of everyday life, so clearly not for you, Kinsey.
*Here’s the back blurb: “He placed a notice in a Chicago paper, an advertisement for a ‘reliable wife.’ She responded, saying that she was ‘a simple, honest woman.’ She was, of course, anything but honest, and the only simple thing about her was her single-minded determination to marry this man and then kill him slowly and carefully, leaving herself a wealthy widow. What Catherine Land did not realize was that the enigmatic and lonely Ralph Truitt had a plan of his own.”