Sometimes I think the audio version of a book ruins the book for me; other times, it’s the book itself that doesn’t work. In the case of Robert Goolrick’s A Reliable Wife, I think it was both. I am clearly in the minority here — just type “A Reliable Wife” into the Google Book Blog Search — but I’m okay with that.

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick (audiobook cover)The novel, which opens in 1907, tells of Ralph Truitt, a wealthy businessman and bachelor living in rural Wisconsin, and the lovely Catherine Land of Chicago, who answers Ralph’s newspaper ad for a “reliable wife.” Catherine is not who she seems to be, and she has plans of her own — but then, so does Ralph. A third main character turns up as the story develops, but I’m not going to tell you who s/he is or how s/he relates to the other characters. In this case, I think it’s more fun to find out as you’re reading.

I also won’t spoil the plot by laying it out here, as the redeeming aspect of the novel for me was hearing the story unfold. Instead, check out the publisher’s website or the GoodReads summary if you’d like more about the story. Suffice to say that there were some nice big plot twists that forced me to readjust my sense of the story and where each character fit. It was the story that kept me listening, even when the characters and the writing kind of made me want to quit.

I didn’t like a single one of the three main characters in A Reliable Wife. They were cruel, manipulative, and — in my opinion — completely devoid of redeeming qualities. They were complicated without being complex; each had plenty of backstory and motivation, yet I felt Goolrick laid each component of each character out so blatantly that the end result was tangled mess of anecdotes instead of a nuanced, intriguing being. Goolrick delves into each character’s history, but that didn’t increase my affection for them. I need at least one character in a book that I love or hate, so that I’m invested in his or her fate. None of Goolrick’s characters elicited either of these feelings from me; instead, I really couldn’t care less what became of them. I got to the end of the book, thought, “Huh, okay then,” and went on with my life.

I also had a hard time with the writing. To me it was too staccato, too simplistic, too repetitive. There were a lot of parallel sentence structures and repeated words or phrases. The short sentences seemed designed to express an urgency or intensity I didn’t feel; instead, they came across as overdramatic. The constant use of sentence fragments, which I do not usually mind, rendered the text too choppy to read smoothly. For example, why does the following line require three periods?

She wanted a cigarette. A cigarette in her little silver holder. And a glass of whiskey, one glass to take away the chill.

The whole book read like that, and it didn’t work for me.

Also, I got really tired of hearing how much the characters wanted each other. One example (of far too many):

He looked at Catherine. He imagined her in bed. In his bed.

He wanted to hold her face until she finally raised her eyes to look at him. He wanted to look in her eyes and know who she was, who she was in her hidden soul. He wanted to kiss her with his hands on her cheeks. He wanted her to answer his kiss with an eager tongue. He wanted to feel the moment her hand moved beneath the cotton of his shirt and touched, for the very first time, the hair of his chest, the skin of his body. He wanted her to want all this and he wanted her to fear it, but he wanted her to submit.

Not that I have anything against such passages in general, but in this book, where they were so numerous, so long and often gratuitous, I got tired of them.

The reader for the audio production was Mark Feuerstein. The force with which he uttered every word of the novel only accentuated the features I disliked: short, choppy writing, overdone drama, bizarre sentence structure. I’ve not heard him read anything else, so I can’t say if his narration of A Reliable Wife reflects his usual style. I’d be willing to give him another chance. Probably only one, though.

Overall, in print or as an audiobook, I wasn’t impressed. It just goes to show you there’s no one book that everyone everywhere will enjoy!

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  1. Bravo (clap, clap!!) Your assessment mirrors my own (except the part about the reader of the audio version- I read the book rather than listened to it- that must have been excruciating!!) Great review.

    1. Thanks! And thank you for posting your own review earlier. I’ve had mine written for a while but felt somehow mean posting it. Reading yours gave me the courage to just do it 🙂

  2. I know this book has received a lot of good reviews and yet I never yet felt compelled to pick it up. I’m sorry to hear that this didn’t work for you. I often find it hard to develop a feeling for the story when all the characters are unlikeable or cruel.

    1. Definitely. I’m not a fan of novels where the plot is everything. I was rather disappointed, after all the good buzz out there!

    1. I hope you enjoy it! I’m definitely in the minority. Everyone else seems to have loved it. When you do get to it, I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

  3. I haven’t read this book but I have leafed through it several times in the store and read a page or two. I didn’t care much for the writing style, either, but something else put me off this book & I’m not sure what. I just didn’t want to read it which is pretty unusual for me, especially when a book is popular in this community. Of course I read One Day for that reason & it didn’t work out too well for me!

    I’m sorry this book was a disappointmnet for you. I have a lot of problems with a book when I don’t like any of the characters, too. I’m impressed you finished this book!

    I appreciated your honest review.
    ~ Amy

    1. The plot is the only thing that kept me going! And it wasn’t even that great. You’re right, there’s something…off about the book, I thought.

      It’s funny you mention One Day. I have a copy waiting for me that I started a few weeks ago, then set aside. I wonder if it will end up being a similar situation!

      Thanks for your support. I haven’t posted many negative reviews, and hitting “Post” can be a little intimidating. I’m glad to know that people appreciate honesty.

  4. This sounds an irritating pain of a book, the writing style is very choppy. I’m glad to hear the plot kept you listening, I’m not sure I’d be able to do that!

  5. For some reason, due to the cover, I assumed this book took place in Russia. How very odd.

    I’m so sorry this sucked; it’s hard enough to deal with unsympathetic characters, but unsympathetic characters the author thinks are sympathetic? Yeesh. I hope your next read is thoroughly wonderful to make up for this.

    1. Yes! I can totally see that! Definitely not…Wisconsin. Actually, all three of my current reads are absolutely delightful, which never happens. So it’s balancing out!

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