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Wisconsin Stars in ‘A Reliable Wife’

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Jan. 19, 2010
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Everyone knows that Wisconsin winters consist of blankets of snow and frigid temperatures. Author Robert Goolrick has used this well-known frozen tundra as the backdrop for his novel A Reliable Wife, a turn-of-the-20th-century tale that takes place in wintry Wisconsin. But despite the context, this narrative is filled with heat and smoldering desire.

Set in 1907, lead character Ralph Truitt’s life is as dark as the cold emptiness of a winter evening. Although he is the wealthiest man in town, Truitt has found himself as barren as the landscape since losing his wife and children. Seeking solace and an end to years of personal torment, Truitt advertises for a mail-order bride in a Chicago newspaper. What he finds in the mysterious, beautiful woman who arrives is anything but the “reliable wife” that he requested when he placed the ad. Written with the echoes of Wuthering Heights and hints of Edgar Allan Poe, this debut novel is a classic tale of suspenseful seduction filled with plans of murder, trickery and betrayal.

A Reliable Wife got its inspiration in part from a gothic collection of strange, disturbing vignettes and photographs that appear in the 1973 book Wisconsin Death Trip. The collection is based on real-life tragedies featuring pictures of deceased children and grieving parents alongside newspaper accounts of murder, illness and insanity—all of which occurred in a small town in Wisconsin during the 1890s. Goolrick has taken these strange but true accounts and created a haunting story filled with love and madness.

Goolrick, author of the 2007 memoir The End of the World as We Know It, attributes his use of frigid Wisconsin scenery throughout the novel to memories of business trips he once took here. Knowing that he wanted to set the novel in a dark landscape, Goolrick focused on the “fascinating” state of Wisconsin. Goolrick will return to Wisconsin from his native New York for speaking engagements at Boswell Book Co. on Sunday, Jan. 24, at 2 p.m. and Next Chapter Bookshop on Monday, Jan. 25, at 7 p.m.


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