Posted by: Audiegrl
My husband picked this book up for me this week. In Northern Illinois we are used to very harsh winters, and living less that 20 miles from the Wisconsin border, he thought I’d enjoy this. He was right…Now, I’d like to recommend it to you.
A Reliable Wife: Rural Wisconsin, 1907. In the bitter cold, Ralph Truitt stands stands alone on the train platform anxiously awaiting the arrival of a visitor. The woman who arrives is not who he expects. This woman, this reliable wife, will decide whether Ralph Truitt lives or dies.
An Interview with Robert Goolrick
The plotting of A Reliable Wife seems very deliberately crafted, as readers must constantly change their expectations of these characters and their actions. There is one surprise after another as the story unfolds. Did you think about the reader’s experience as you were crafting your storytelling, or did you write the story as you saw it?
I wanted to give readers, first and foremost, a good solid story and a reading experience that is as sensual as it is cerebral. I thought about the story for years before I started writing, then started it several times and stopped, and finally just committed myself to writing down what I had already committed to memory, the story of three figures in a barren landscape. I thought a great deal about the myth of Phaedra, and her entanglements with Theseus and Hyppolitus. So I thought I knew pretty much the whole thing.
But you’re always surprised. I was surprised at Ralph’s reaction to the knowledge that he was being poisoned. I was surprised that the brief encounter with Alice in St. Louis became, for me, the emotional fulcrum of the book. And I was surprised by Catherine’s passion for knowledge, for the comfort she takes in the reading rooms of public libraries.
You’ve mentioned that Michael Lesy’s Wisconsin Death Trip was one of the major inspirations for your novel. Can you talk a little about Lesy’s book and its relationship to your own?
Michael Lesy’s remarkable book is an examination of the lives of ordinary citizens of a small town in northern Wisconsin in 1896. It is a collection of photographs taken by the local photographer and brief newspaper accounts of the surprisingly erratic lives of the men and women who endured a hard life in a poor year in a bleak landscape.
Ralph and Catherine and Antonio are vivid, larger than life. I wanted to plant them very securely in the world, and the world they inhabit is the one depicted by Michael Lesy. It is a world in which no one is safe, in which the roof can always cave in when you least expect it.
I’ve always thought the lives of ordinary people are far more fascinating than the lives of the rich and powerful. An account of a man burying his father is more fascinating to me than a politician’s description of lunch with Henry Kissinger. A snapshot taken at the beach on a summer’s day is more memorable than any fine art photography. They show much more clearly the preciousness and grace of life.
Michael Lesy shows us how fragile life is, how hard it can be to get through the day without running off the rails.
Robert Goolrick is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir The End of the World as We Know It. This is his first novel. He lives in New York City.