A Reliable Wife
A Reliable Wife begins with anticipation. First, there’s the anticipation of Ralph Truitt, the businessman who owns all the large assets of the town, Truitt, which is named for his family. Ralph Truitt waits on the train platform for a train which is late arriving. As he waits, he is watched by the people of the town, blue-collar workers whose labor makes him wealthy, and who live cold and difficult lives as poor people in the isolated town that revolves around Ralph’s large house.
The train that is waited and watched for carries Ralph Truitt’s new wife—a plain and simple woman who sent a picture and a letter in response to Ralph Truitt’s plain and simple ad asking for a “reliable wife.” From the moment the woman steps off the train, the arrangement is far more complex than expected. Neither the picture nor the letter revealed who the woman truly is, or her reason for marrying Ralph Truitt.
The suspense of Ralph and the town waiting to see the wife who has answered the ad escalates into excitement when the carriage overturns on the way home from the station. Despite the isolation of the novel’s setting, deep in the woods of snowy Wisconsin, A Reliable Wife is a simmering page-turner. Goolrick’s sense of pacing is strong, with well-spaced revelations that deepen the characters and create even more questions about the story’s outcome. Catherine travels to St. Louis to retrieve Truitt’s son—the only living member of his family; he has lost his wife and daughter long ago. However, during this trip to St. Louis, in which the glittering city life contrasts with Truitt’s lonely and isolated Wisconsin home, we learn not only the glamorous and shockingly immoral lifestyle that Catherine Land managed to conceal, but also her connection to Truitt and her ultimate plan for their marriage.
A Reliable Wife is suspenseful and passionate, a great read, especially for fans of Victorian novels. Truitt has secrets about his dead wife and daughter and his faraway son, whose legitimacy is in question. Catherine uses her “honest and simple woman” front to divert attention from the deadly motives she has for Ralph Truitt and his money. However, despite the menacing pasts and motives of each of the character, they manage to develop not only a sensual but an emotional connection, somehow attracted rather than repulsed by one another’s sins. The twist at the end changes the plan that motivated Catherine to marry in the first place, reflects the power of the bond that forms between Catherine Land and Ralph Truitt.