Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Reliable Wife - Robert Goolrick (Audio)


Liars and perverts and murderers, oh my! It has been weeks since I finished this audio, and I still have a slightly foul taste in my mouth. The reviews had run the gamut, from adoration to disgust, and everything in between. It still didn't quite prepare me for the sludge that I would have to wade through to finish this book.

So, in a brief nutshell, without blowing any of the nuggets of surprise, here is the plot. The setting is turn-of-the-century rural Wisconsin. Catherine Land, of questionable background, responds to an ad from a wealthy businessman (Ralph Truit) looking for "a reliable wife" with which to form an arranged marriage. Both parties have ulterior motives; we find this out early. We just aren't sure exactly what they are, and to what lengths each will go to in the fulfillment of their goals. What we DO know is that Catherine is worldly but pretending to be innocent, and Ralph is a sex-obsessed pervert as a result of a religious-fanatic mother. Good times.

Thus begins the peeling of the layers, and the winding path of twists and turns. My heart raced and I became excited...perhaps there is hope! I began to compare the various twists and reveals to Fingersmith and was intrigued. That was short-lived, however. I won't bother you with details, but with the progression of every disc, the characters become even more pathetic, despicable and obnoxious. By the end of the story, I threw up my hands in disgust and declared that they all deserved each other.

St. Louis and Chicago in 1907 is fascinating stuff. Goolrick created a rich, gothic feel to these cities that were both hopeful and bustling, but also nurtured a foul, filthy underbelly of disease, corruption and prostitution. He created the cold, bleak hopelessness of rural Wisconsin in the winter. As a reader, you are transported.

As I stated before, however, the characters didn't win me over. Neither did the prose. There were scenes that reminded me of a cheap, tawdry romance novel, scenes that were laughable, and ones that made me want to just stop reading:


"Every exchange making him feel like an idiot, making him draw his spine up straight and making him fiddle with his hair, and all he wanted to do was to see her naked on the floor. Not brutal, not unkind, enraptured."


Or this:


The woman he wanted to undress, to see naked, was a stranger. Her conversation, her requests, were strange to him. Nobody had asked anything of him for so long. "I'm not....I'm not pure. You should know." He watched her in silence. "I was a child. A friend of my father's, a fellow missionary in Africa. He came to me one night and....I'm not pure. Not without the sin of fornication. My father killed him. You should know." Mercy touched at his heart. He held her hand, just for a moment, for the first time. "That life is past. It was a long time ago. It was not your fault. Don't think about it anymore." She looked so far away. "It doesn't matter to me. Nobody's pure. My daughter, my Francesca was pure, but nobody else."


Aye, Mother Mary, deliver me from this story.

Now about the audio production. Our narrator, Mark Feuerstein, was a bit dry, with not much range between male and female voices, or much inflection. It wasn't necessarily distracting, but not engaging either. I don't think I would seek him out for future books.

As I re-read through my review, it seems like all bad news. Many of my blogger friends didn't agree. They loved it, calling it "perfect" and "page-turning", including Julie @ Booking Mama, Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog, Swapna @ S. Krishna's Books, Jen @ Devourer of Books, Jennifer @ The Literate Housewife, and 90% of the book blogging universe. Just call me Mary Contrary.

2.5 out of 5 stars


38 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Gasp - we disagree! A first! I didn't take the dialogue as "realistic" since they were all playing roles. I loved it for the twists and turns. But definitely you had to be willing to put up with a lot of tawdry foul underbelly!

Willa said...

"What we DO know is that Catherine is worldly but pretending to be innocent, and Ralph is a sex-obsessed pervert as a result of a religious-fanatic mother. Good times."
Ha ha FANTASTIC REVIEW!! This sounds like quite a read, think I will have to try it just because of your great review.

Jessica said...

I keep reading more and more bad reviews for this one. I did win my copy so I didnt pay for it but its very much on the bottom of my TBR list.

caite said...

oh my...another day of blogger commenting problems...?

Let me try again.
I knew when you referred to "the sludge" that this was going to be a fun review!

Zibilee said...

I bought this book for my birthday after reading such good reviews of it, but now I am starting to think it's going to be one that lingers on the shelf for awhile. I am not one for wooden prose and totally unlikeable characters, so I am not really motivated to start this one. I am sorry that you didn't like the book, but fear not, you are not the only one! I have read some other reviews that are similar to yours.

farmlanebooks said...

Oh no! I have a copy of this and had been thinking of reading it next month - looks as though I won't get very far with it, but as it is a review copy I'll give it a try :-(

farmlanebooks said...

Oh no! I have a copy of this and had been thinking of reading it next month - looks as though I won't get very far with it, but as it is a review copy I'll give it a try :-(

Meg said...

Oh, Mary Contrary -- I've actually seen a few lukewarm/negative reviews of this one, though I can't remember where now. Your review had me giggling -- and I love/hate when I reach a point in a novel where I, too, want to shout, "Yeah, well, you all deserve each other!"

I think I'll be skipping this one!

Jen - devourer of books said...

I think I would have disliked this in audio too, even if the narrator was perfect, because suddenly the twisted sex gets the same emphasis as the rest of the book, where I would tend to just skim those scenes in print.

Literate Housewife said...

Oh no! Well, I knew when I glowed about it that it wouldn't be for everyone. I wonder if I would have loved it as much had I listened to it? There was just something about that book and all the unreliable characters that held me in their grasp. I won't call you Mary Contrary. You have to go with your gut, which you did very well!

Erin said...

YES! I completely agree!! I just posted my own review of this audiobook a few weeks ago. My thoughts were pretty much in line with yours...ugh! Thanks for sharing!

bermudaonion said...

I know a lot of bloggers have loved this book, but a good friend of mine called it a soap opera, so I've hesitated to pick it up. It sounds like you agree with my friend.

ds said...

Mary, Mary quite contrary. Great review, Sandy. I think I'll leave this one on someone else's shelf!

The Bumbles said...

I'm fairly certain I would not enjoy this since like you I am not a big fan of the romance novel. But more than anything else, if there aren't any characters to root for it is terribly hard to want to stick around to find out what happens. I feel that way about The Widow's Children - I had the same exact reaction to that one that you did here. Thankfully that experience doesn't happen often!

Julie P. said...

I'm so sorry that this one didn't work for you! I guess that's what makes the book world go around!

Anna said...

I received an unrequested copy of this book awhile back, and I kept it because I was intrigued by all the glowing reviews, but I've heard that it's soap opera-ish so I've been hesitant. You've certainly made me curious about "the sludge." ;)

lee said...

I thought it started off well but became rather lurid. At times, I'd look up from the book and think to myself, "Look at you reading reading one of 'those' kinds of books." But, I finished it. I also thought, who is this author? And so I read his just as lurid and over the top memoir. The memoir I'd recommend.

heidenkind said...

Those quotes were definitely lol-worthy. Oh mercy mercy me.

Iliana said...

I just don't know what to think.... I've read so many mixed reviews on this one too. I guess one day I'll just have to dive in and see what I think. Worse come to worse I'll just come back to read your review which was great :)

Alyce said...

I've seen positive and negative reviews for this one too. I picked it up for fifty cents at the library book sale, so I guess if I don't like it at least I'm not out that much money.

Amy said...

bummer, I really liked this one! But I've definitely seen opinions that mirrored yours.

Kathleen said...

I've had this one loaded onto to my Kindle for months and haven't read it yet. Since my tastes generally run pretty similar to yours I'm thinking there's no rush for me to delve into this one!

Carrie K. said...

I tried this one on audio and gave up because of the reader. I thought maybe it would be better in print, but after reading this, I think I'll give it a pass.

Stephanie said...

I really disliked this one, which came completely out of the blue. I expected to love it!

Melody said...

I remember reading a few rave reviews on this one, but since I wasn't really interested with the premise I didn't pick it up. I'm glad I didn't! :P

Jenners said...

It does sound a bit icky ... but like two icky people attempting to outfox each other. NOt sure I would listen to this on audio after your comments but I might check out the book some day.

Veens said...

Oh MY! I have this eBook with me! I was going by the 90% good reviews and now I am skeptical. I am not going to pick it up in a hurry.

Coming from Bermudaonion' Blog, where I saw you :)

Thanks for the review.

irisonbooks said...

I've seen quite a few lukewarm reviews of this lately, I think I will skip this one :)

Care said...

I have this in the house (book, not audio) and have no idea when I might get to the top of the pile.

S. Krishna said...

Oh, I'm sorry you didn't like this one! I wonder if it has something to do with the experience of audio, though I have read many times that people hated the characters.

Avid Reader said...

I'm so with you on this one. I couldn't believe all the great reviews it got. It read like a bad romance novel to me and I didn't like any of the characters.

Frances said...

I wonder if this is one of those books where the overblown elements exist first legitimately and then drag on and on more for shock value than anything else? Have to admit that the premise did not appeal much to me so glad to have a further reason to not read it.

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I rushed out to get this when it first came out, and still have yet to read it. I am very curious about it because it does seen to evoke mixed emotions from people whose opinion I have come to respect. It does seem rather tawdry from the passage you mention, so we will see.

Alice Teh said...

This looks like a historical romance and I'm not a big fan of it soooo I think I'd pass this one. Thanks for the review, though!

Literary Feline said...

I've heard quite a few not-so-good things about this book. It's a shame really as the premise sounds so interesting.

Melissa M said...

Ok, I'm finally getting caught up, so I will apologize in advance for the many comments headed your way...

I'd heard so many great things about this one, and even though I have a copy, it just didn't really catch my attention. I will probably at least give it a try, but won't be expecting perfection.

Cindy said...

I didn't like this book at the beginning, but kept reading it hoping it would get better. It never did. The rambling thoughts of the characters bogged down the plot and made for laborious reading. The "husband" was a real perv and I could never get past that. It was a relief to finish and move on to something better.

Cindy said...

I didn't like this book at the beginning, but kept reading it hoping it would get better. It never did. The rambling thoughts of the characters bogged down the plot and made for laborious reading. The "husband" was a real perv and I could never get past that. It was a relief to finish and move on to something better.