A Reliable Wife

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick is a relentless page turner. I was annoyed during the first couple of chapters because it felt like the same ideas were repeated over and over, but suddenly new information was revealed new information that made me reconsider everything that had been told. After this, the story had a grip on me that didn’t let go until the end.

This is a crime story about very damaged people. It was shocking to read that the author based all of the major characters on different aspects of himself. These are all people that have lived deliberately debauched lives. The existence of living for only selfish physical pleasure is presented as deeply depressing and the result of abusive circumstances. The characters, for at least some of the time, see a hedonistic existence as the best way to escape the pain they feel in their existence. Contentment is only found by the simpler, safer but less exciting existence of stable loving commitment to others. Those who can’t accept this lesson die.

This sounds simplistically moral, but the author does include minor characters that experience madness, pain and death without any sense of higher justice. The many characters reap what they sow, but I don’t think that the author is trying to imply that a virtuous existence is any guarantee of a good life.

The writing is mesmerizing and very sensual. While there is long discussions of the sex lives of the characters, I didn’t find it erotic to read as there was always a feeling of how damaged these people are. The sensuality comes from feeling the pain these characters experience so vividly. There were some distractions: one of the characters is portrayed as so wealthy that nothing can’t be bought, the setting was in some ways to simple, without the complications and randomness that would make it feel more real. The whole story happens on a stage that is designed and built by the author as a closed world. This closing off of the story from complicated and random real world made the story more engrossing while reading but made it less meaningful for me on reflection.

I recommend this book because of how engrossed I was while reading. I plan to read Robert Goolrick’s memoir The End of the World as We Know It: Scenes from a Life to find out how this kind of damage plays out in a real life.


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