In 1907, Ralph Truitt, a lonely man who owns most of a small Wisconsin town, puts an ad in a Chicago paper looking for “a reliable wife”. Catherine Land responds, but she isn’t what she seems or the “simple woman” she claims to be. On her way to meet Ralph for the first time she discards her luscious red dress and puts on another one, much more subdued. On its hem she sows her jewelry and on its pocket she hides a bottle of arsenic.
*cue eerie and dramatic music*
In the end, it wasn’t the plot twists that stuck to my mind, although there were some, predictable as they might have been (I soon realized I could read the first sentences of each chapter and fill in the following clichés).
No, what really made an impression was the writing. A Reliable Wife must surely be a Guinness Record for the highest density of anaphoras (including political speeches, and that, you must agree, is saying something!).
His mother never wrote and he never went home. He played cards. He read the writings of philosophers. He read French poetry aloud to uncomprehending whores. He studies charts that predicted how money grows into wealth, and he studied the tout sheet at racetracks that predicted how bloodlines could turn into a nose around the wire.
She knew. She knew exactly, but she couldn’t stand to hear it. She twisted her wrists from him beautiful hands; she walked across the room.
A good use of repetition can produce a really poetic prose, but push it too far and it all becomes convoluted, distracting and, well, repetitive.
Such an intricate writing doesn’t usually make a book become a #1 New York Times bestseller, but sex has been known to help. Characters in A Reliable Wife are constantly thinking about (when not actually having) sex. Their relationships with each other are always dependent on whether they had/are having/will have sex or not. If you squeezed out all the sex-talk, I think the book wouldn’t reach 50 pages. I’m not a prude and I don’t mind a sex scene or fifth, but it becomes creepy when, as someone over at Goodreads said, “none of it is sexy“, especially if it’s so often associated with insanity, obsession and violence.
All this to say that A Reliable Wife wasn’t my cup of tea, but that I can understand its appeal. For what it’s worth, lately I’ve been giving up a lot of books, but was curious enough to read this one to the very end. Just to see what would happen. Just to know if my guess was right. Just because.