Follow by Email


A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What makes a classy best-seller?: A Reliable Wife

Easy to see why "A Reliable Wife" is both classy and a best-seller, a rare combination. From first three chapters it's obvious that the book is stylish and smart, a solid piece of literary fiction. We get access to the interior life of the (2) main characters, Richard Truitt and Catherine Land (?), there's a real sensitivity to language, setting, period detail - but without laying it on too thick. Most of all, right from the start, lots of simmering tension about sex without, so far, any sex (that will happen eentually) - the metaphor of the woman in a dress with bustles and corsets, depicted on the pb cover in fact, is very apt, as the characters and their world, small-town Wisconsin in 1907, early winter, seem to the outside view bound tight and repressed, but there's a steaming sexuality beneath, waiting to be released. Truitt, a much-loathed mill owner or some such industrial job, apparently 20 years widowed, seems to spend a great deal of time fantasizing about the sex lives of others in town. Not clear whether he's just bitter and lonely or truly perverted and dangerous. He advertises for the eponymous "reliable wife," and the novel opens with Truitt awaiting her arrival by train. In the 2nd chapter we meet her, Catherine, and see that she's not the demure Christian whom Truitt expects - she is apparently a Chicago prostitute. Near the station, she tosses her flouncy dress out the window and changes into plain cloth. A stranger comes to town - one of the great literary tropes. Is there anything new to be done with this genre? Yes, apparently. What makes the novel, by Robert Goolrick (we went to college together and knew each other a bit) so accessible is that the characters, as in all gothics, have deep and strange secrets, but from each other - not from the reader. We are the omnicient. It seems this novel is headed into a cold and strange territory.

No comments:

Post a Comment