Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘Robert Goolrick’

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick


A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick seemed strangely familiar, but it wasn’t until I got about half way through that I realised I had already read this book, unfortunately before I started blogging.

Thank goodness for blogging. At least in future, as I get older and more forgetful, I will be able to look back through my blog to make sure I’m not just reading (and blogging about) the same book over and over. Or if I do lose my memory, I hope my over-and-over book is Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I love the movie, Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray gets to live the same day over and over until he gets it right. If I read and review Persuasion over and over and over again, eventually I might write the perfect review. (Then I would forget I had already read the book, and start all over again… )

Anyway, back to A Reliable Wife. Early on, I thought this book seemed familiar because it reminded me a little of Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome. Both books are set in a similar time, in remote villages with weather conditions so harsh that the locals go mad in the winter snow and isolation, and both have a hero who is desperate for love and sex.

Then it hit me. I’d already read the damn thing.

Okay, for those of you who haven’t read A Reliable Wife at all, the story starts with Ralph Truitt advertising in a newspaper for a wife. Ralph is in his fifties, filthy rich, and desperate for human touch. As a young man he fell in love with and married an Italian woman who messed around on him, so he cast her out, then spent twenty years alone.

Catherine Land answered Ralph’s ad, and agreed to come to Ralph’s home in Wisconsin and marry him. From the moment Catherine throws away her red dress on the train and dons a drab, home-made sack, it is clear that she has a past which she doesn’t want Ralph to know about. Ralph sees through her right away, but luckily for Catherine, she has an opportunity to prove her worth when he has a serious accident. After she nurses him back to health, they marry.

Next comes the big twist, which I won’t tell you about. If, like me, you’re on your second read of A Reliable Wife, you’ll probably remember what happens next at about this point anyway. And if you haven’t, but decide to read this book, then what happens next will be a surprise.

I read Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick earlier this year. There seems to be a pattern to the morals in this author’s stories, that is; messing around on your spouse is not a good idea.

Some of the sentences and phrases in A Reliable Wife are beautifully expressed, but I got tired of the characters being so desperate for sex. And when they got it, I got tired of hearing about how they did it. (Funny, but I never get tired of chocolate. I can eat it, smell it, read about it, cook with it, even look at pictures of it all day).

I think the idea of A Reliable Wife was good, but since it was the author’s first novel he probably needed more practice at leaving out the unnecessary parts of the story. Heading Out to Wonderful was better. I have high hopes of Robert Goolrick getting a third novel just right.



Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick


I chose to read Robert Goolrick’s novel, Heading Out to Wonderful, based on the title. I think the great appeal was the word ‘wonderful,’ although I quite liked the cover too. The story is set in Virginia and after I finished reading I Googled photos of Virginian landscapes, which look surprisingly like the artwork on the cover.

Heading Out to Wonderful is the story of  Charlie Beale, who arrives in the little town of Brownsburg in Virginia shortly after World War Two. Charlie is a butcher, who, for some unexplained reason, has a suitcase full of cash. This suitcase full of cash annoyed me the whole way through the story. If any aspiring authors are reading this, remember the most important rule; if a character is shown to have a butcher’s knife in the first chapter, the reader has to learn why the character has the knife, and what the character does with them. In this book, Charlie is a butcher, so far, so good, there is a reason and a use for his knives. But the cash? I have no idea. Did Charlie rob a bank? Or did he win the money gambling? Was it an inheritance? I wish I knew.

Well, at least the author explained what Charlie did with his mysteriously gained money; he bought properties. If Virginia is truly like the photos I saw, then I can understand why, because the countryside is truly beautiful. Charlie fell in love with Virginia, the town and the people of Brownsburg, who also fell in love with him. Charlie was a charmer, which is a useful trait for a butcher. He could also play baseball better than anyone else in town, which made him even more attractive to the women of the town, acceptable to the men, and a hero to five-year-old Sam, his employer’s son.

Not long after settling in Brownsburg, Charlie fell desperately in love with the most beautiful woman in town, Sylvan Glass. Sylvan was a hillbilly, whose father sold her to Boaty Glass, Brownsburg’s richest man, to be his wife. For me the sale of Sylvan was a weak point in the novel. Sylvan’s father clearly loved her and I don’t think it was true to his character to have sold his daughter for the farm and a tractor. I can understand why Boaty bought Sylvan though. Boaty was much older than Sylvan, a Mama’s Boy, who had never been loved by anyone else. It made sense that he bought himself a wife.

Charlie and Sylvan very soon started an affair, which is consummated when Charlie stops by Sylvan’s house on the way home from the slaughterhouse. This becomes a regular occurrence even though he is nearly always accompanied by little Sam, who waits in Sylvan’s lounge room reading comics while Charlie and Sylvan go to bed together. Sam was extremely uneasy about the affair, which he knew he could not talk about even though he didn’t quite understand what was going on.

I found it hard to believe anyone would go to bed with a butcher on his way home from a slaughterhouse. If Charlie had showered, maybe. But he didn’t. Charlie would have smelled vile, like bloody meat, on every visit with Sylvan. My imagination only stretches so far, and Sylvan jumping into bed with someone who smelled like an abattoirs is beyond my understanding.

Smells aside, Charlie and Sylvan’s affair obviously couldn’t last forever. Sylvan’s husband eventually decides enough is enough and things go from wonderful to rotten.

Even though I’m complaining about the smell of the hero and the mysterious suitcase of money and the whole Charlie/Sylvan/Sam thing in this review, I liked the story and the characters. The townspeople are good and generous and Brownsburg sounds like a lovely place to live. I have to admit though, I like a happy ending and I thought I would get one from a story called Heading Out to Wonderful, but the story became a lot darker as it went along.

The title, Heading Out to Wonderful, comes from an expression a character uses when giving advice. “Let me tell you something son. When you’re young, and you head out to wonderful, everything is fresh and bright as a brand-new penny, but before you get to wonderful you’re going to have to pass through all right. And when you get to all right, stop and take a good, long look, because that may be as far as you’re ever going to go.” 

For me, the first part of this book was wonderful, and the last quarter, just okay. Based on my enjoyment of Heading Out to Wonderful though, I would recommend this novel and will read A Reliable Wife by this author as soon as I can get my hands on it.




Tag Cloud