A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

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Everything is covered in cold, white snow in this novel of family trauma and intrigue in 1908 Wisconsin.

Goolrick was inspired to write this book after coming across Michael Lesy’s Wisconsin Death Trip, a photographic collection of residents of this area in the early 1900’s with stories from records and newspapers of the subject’s stories. Madness, violence and tragedy stalk the pages in startling detail and number.

This story is set against the stark, bleak and isolating cold of the area, where madness and violence stalk the residents, and opens with a wealthy middle aged man who has advertised for a wife in a newspaper, and the desperate woman who answers the call. Both of them have a past which motivates them, and neither has been completely honest about what they are. Which is great, because as the story unfolds, the book isn’t exactly about what you think it is.

I thought from the cover of this book that it would be kind of a mystery, crime novel, but it’s more than it’s cover would suggest. The book is really beautiful in it’s descriptions of place and era, and it’s gentle unfolding of character. It’s an intelligent book, weighted in snow and thawing ice, where a woman desperate to survive has become enmeshed in a family tragedy and is caught between love, money and survival.

Read It If: I think most people would like this book, it’s very good, but it will appeal to those who like American historical fiction.

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