Thursday, September 30, 2010

Repentance and Redemption of a Not-So-Reliable Wife

The triangle has been a standard plot device since Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, but Robert Goolick twists those three straight lines into a convoluted spiral circling in on itself in his second book, A Reliable Wife.

This is a lush read, a Catherine/Heathcliff read, a Dickensian trek into turn of the century Americana. The language is elegiac, a sorrow that turns on hope but expects despair. Goolick takes the reader into the hearts of his protagonists and opens the secrets they keep from one another. Ralph Truitt wants a wife, but has no hope of love. Catherine Land wants love and money and answers his advertisement, but has dark plans of her own and a lover in the shadows. The lover has his own secrets and drives the plot toward tragedy.

There are muted undertones of classic literature as the plot unfolds. Ralph Truitt is a Jean Valjean, Victor Hugo's saint nee sinner in Les Miserables. There are hints of Fantine, the prostitute who gave everything for her daughter, in Catherine; however, whereas Fantine lost her beauty and her health and ended impoverished while her Cosette prospered, it is the opposite for Catherine who lives in wealth with Truitt but loses her sister to prostitution and vice.

The theme of the "bad woman" healed by simple country life, living things, and a steady man mirrors The Harvester by Gene Stratton Porter, and has much of the tone of that book, but Goolick's writing is much more intense, erotically sensual, but restrained. The sexual energy and tension of the story pulls the reader from chapter to chapter and builds a sense of dread as the pent emotions move toward release. This is not a short book, but I read it in one night because there was no stopping place.

This is a prodigal story of a father who is the sinner and the boy who returns home to forgive or avenge, and in the homecoming two characters find redemption, but it is the inevitability of evil that creates the tension as the story reaches its end. We as readers know all and know that the ending cannot be good for these flawed people, but we have come to hope, just as Truitt hopes, for ultimate forgiveness and grace.

As Goolick warns in repeated incantation: These things happen.

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