Robert Goolrick’s first novel, A Reliable Wife (Algonquin Books), isn’t your normal, everyday thriller. Normal, everyday thrillers, as you’ve probably noticed, are propelled by action. Villain threatens with A. Hero retaliates with B. Villain, wounded, strikes back with C. And so on. My point is, it’s action all the way.
A Reliable Wife is a thriller of another kind. In this brief, brilliant book, it’s not what the players do that matters; it’s what they feel, what they think. The considerable action isn’t physical. Rather, it’s mental and emotional. The threats the characters wield require not bigger guns and sharper knives and smarter gadgets, but bigger hearts, sharper insights, and smarter dialogue.
Writing in an eloquent, precise, and sometimes repetitive style that mimics the meandering double-backs of thought, Goolrick sets his primary characters against each another as if they’re archetypes in a painting — but they only look like archetypes. The middle-aged businessman, rich but lonely. The younger woman, come to bitterly wintered Wisconsin in 1907, having answered the man’s ad for a reliable wife. It’s a snapshot, how they are at this moment. But what brought them here? What do they want? What are their secrets? And how will all of that propel their tale forward, knotting up their lives? By turns tantalizing, surprising and shocking, A Reliable Wife shows us how the past and its echoes can change one’s life as easily as a new realization can change one’s mind.