Friday, February 19, 2010

A Reliable Wife

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

This was a very interesting read. Sometimes disturbing in content sometimes too repetitive in emotional descriptions, but captivating nonetheless.

The story is told in three parts. The time is winter 1906. The main location is frozen, barren Wisconsin. The "feel" is England, circa "Oliver Twist."

Mr. Truitt, a wealthy widower consumed with his loneliness, mistakes of the past, and his abhorrent sexuality, advertises for a reliable wife. Catherine, an aging courtesan, responds to his ad representing herself as a simple and honest woman. It's obvious at once when they meet that she is not who she pretends to be, but she carries out the charade, marries him and plans his death so she can inherit his fortune.

Mr. Truitt reveals his ugly secrets to Catherine and makes her an implicit part of trying to amend his past. He sends her off to St. Louis to bring his lost son home to him.

There are some nice twists in the story and despite my annoyance at the repetitive nature of some of the writing, I think it ultimately provides the feel the author wants the reader to experience of the desperation of the characters. Through the twists and turns I felt hopeful for these characters, despite their ugly pasts. I found myself wishing for the happy fairy tale ending and then feeling it too far gone to be reached. The author ultimately brought to life characters that have worked their magic on me and made me care for them and continue to think of them long after the last pages have been devoured.

Monday, February 15, 2010

My Dilemma

So many books so little time!

I started "Merle's Door" and then got sidetracked away by a book a group of us decided to read together, "Wench." When I finished "Wench" I went back to "Merle's Door." In the meantime I decided I wanted to read a finance book I heard an interview about on NPR. Also picked up some books on nutrition and after my Mom passed away last week a friend suggested "Loving What Is" by Byron Katie.

As if that were not enough, I stopped in at Borders with my brother, sister-in-law and Alyssa to pick up birthday presents and visit Krissy. Silly me, I asked Krissy what books they are 'pushing' right now and she showed me. One, "The Lost City of Z, A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon" immediately appealed to me after having just read "The River of Doubt." I had to have it! The other is "A Reliable Wife." I had to have that one, too!!

I am currently overwhelmed by my book obsession. I had to return "Loving What Is" since I found it already on my book shelf and rather than just take a cash refund I purchased "The Help" which has been recommended by the group that read "Wench."

I don't know where to start but I think I'll drop "Merle" off the list for now. I'm just not finding him quite exciting enough to keep me entertained. Thank goodness I am becoming snowed in. Perhaps I'll find time for them all!

Friday, February 5, 2010


"Wench" by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

This book was suggested by an online friend who had listened to the author's interview on NPR. Several of us got copies and decided to do an online discussion. I just finished the book this evening. The discussion is still pending. I wasn't sure if I wanted to review it before or after the discussion, but obviously I have chosen "before."

The story occurs in 1850's Ohio at a resort called Tawawa. Southern "Gentlemen" rent out the cottages at this resort in order to keep their slave entourages with them. As Ohio was a free state only their most trusted slaves accompanied the men to Tawawa each summer. The main hotel is filled with northern guests who find the Southern men with their slaves distasteful.

Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet & Mawu are the female slaves/sexual property of four of the southern men. Each of these women has a similar yet very different relationship with her master. Lizzie is the youngest and most naive. It's through her eyes we see the story. She believes her love for her master is reciprocated by him. She has born his only two children and she lives an awkward but relatively comfortable life in his home. Reenie is the oldest of the four and had only one child who was sold off. Her master is not kind. Sweet is pregnant with her fifth child at Tawawa. Her other children are still together on the plantation, not taken from her and sold off. Her master seems mostly indifferent to her as a person, being neither exceptionally kind, nor cruel. Mawu had four children, three of which had been sold off by her master. Her master was violent and cruel and seemed to want her only because she hated him so much.

Being in a free state, the slaves consider running, except for Lizzie who feels security in her position and cannot fathom never seeing her young children again, let alone never knowing what could happen to them as a result of her running.

Three summers of visits are recounted in the novel displaying the interactions between the slaves, their masters and their desires. The book is an easy read, both fascinating and disturbing. It's easy to imagine the emotional turmoil the women have been through and fear recurring as well as the physical violence that wreaks havoc at a moment's notice.

This novel is well worth your time. Thumbs up.
Afterthought: I would be interested to hear from anyone that has read this novel as to their take on the jacket photo. I felt it was misleading about what was to expect. Anyone have any ideas how it ties in?