Relentlessly addictive, that's how I would describe Robert Goolrick's A Reliable Wife. The manuscript sat on my reader for months. Every time I found myself on page one, I quickly switched back to whatever classic I was currently tackling because I knew if I started I wouldn't want to stop. I wanted to wait until I had an afternoon of free time (right, phftt) and be able to read the book. Of course, I happened upon an extra long subway ride (what the TTC being delayed and having problems? Yawn.) Of course, I had forgotten my book. Of course, I was uninspired by the two classics I'm currently reading (Dracula; Tess of the D'Ubervilles). S0 I started A Reliable Wife. And. Couldn't. Stop. Reading.
The novel opens with an older man, described by himself as somewhat past his youth, but rich, so very, very rich. After the deaths of his wife and daughter, and the loss of his errant (and possibly bastard [as in not his]) son, Ralph Truitt stands on the cusp of the new century having written away for a wife. The woman who replied, the beautiful, dishonest, Catherine Land replied, reinventing herself along the way. A tragic accident on the way to the farmhouse puts them both in a precarious situation: Truitt close to death; Catherine entirely dependent upon his kindness once she nurses him back to health. They marry. And an odd, not entirely unromantic relationship develops out of their mutual need. He's rich; she's poor. He wants his son back; she's got a life that needs atonement, and an ulterior motive. As the rest of the novel unravels, these desires push them in different directions, and both Catherine and Pruitt are changed as a result of their union in ways they might not expect. The result is delicious for the reader.
The novel, while a little predictable (I had figured out one of the twists fairly early on), is utterly addictive. It's also terribly sexy -- full of sensual description and rich in terms of the description of physical affection. No one escapes sex in this novel and it makes people act in ways they might not expect. In some cases, sex turns into love, and love is sometimes mistaken for lust -- regardless, the book never shies away from the utterly human ways in which the act defines relationships. Goolrick has full, descriptive prose that sometimes feels a little over the top at times, yet it never overpowers the story. Quite the opposite, it pulls you into the characters even further, allows to to invest in them emotionally, which makes the drama of the last third even more interesting. All in all, I couldn't get enough of this novel.