Robert Goolrick’s novel, A Reliable Wife, introduced to me a Wisconsin I never knew existed. Up to this point, my only insight into the great state was that it was cold, residents hate the Minnesota Vikings, and there is always a brisk sale of cheesehead hats. Goolrick portrayal bitch-slaps my theory, showing me a 1900’s Wisconsin that was so desolate and hopeless that it drove people mad.
Not exactly a Midwestern paradise.
A Reliable Wife isn’t really about Wisconsin. Instead, we follow a mail-order bride, who doubles as a con-artist, who struggles with her past and her intention to murder her new husband for his money. The actual story itself is okay, though it is held together by a string of plot holes that makes it difficult to take it seriously. However, whatever Goolrick lacks in storytelling, he makes up for with phrases that I find beautiful and haunting. Every phrase crafts a bleak, blindingly white world, a world more Fargo than jolly Cheesehead. A place where “every day there was some new tragedy, some new and inexplicable failure of the ordinary.” It’s stunning. If you do pick up this book, savor the beauty of the words, even if you have to suffer through a lackluster story to do it.