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This book club provided an opportunity to discuss books with authors from 2009 - 2013. I like to think we were a group of daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, well... women finding time to meet while juggling daily life.

I hope you enjoy exploring The Manic Mommies Book Club Archives. We read 46 books over the years, with audio or written author discussions for each book read documented on this blog.

~ with kindness & gratitude, Mari

MMBC7: A Reliable Wife Discussion begins today!

Originally posted in Big Tent… view comments for full conversation.

Today we start discussing ‘A Reliable Wife’. I encourage everyone to visit the MMBC Blog to read the Q&A with Robert Goolrick. His answers may spark a discussion topic for you, or maybe another question to ask everyone. This dialog is meant to be a discussion between friends – let’s keep the discussion casual and hopefully we will continue learning something new about each other along the way.

Feel free to answer any/all of the questions below:
- What was your overall view of the book? Did you enjoy it?
- Deception… what did you like/dislike about Catherine?
- This is a story of despair, what were your thoughts while reading this book?
- Ralph and Antonio have a sex addiction, would the story be different without these scenes?
- Did you have a favorite character (include why you liked the character)?
- Did you have a favorite part in the book?


  1. I will get us started -- chiming in throughout our discussion.

    I was originally intrigued by this novel, its dark and a new genre for the MMBC. As I read the book I kept thinking, really?! I was shocked several times throughout the book.

    Did you wonder if the author was channeling Stephen King with Ralph? It's been a long time since I read a book this dark. The writing style was a bit cold to me, but kept my interested piqued. I kept asking myself, did the author intend for me to read the book like this?

    I did want to see how the story would end and when I finished reading it I was a bit surprised to realize the novel took place over 9 months -- didn't it feel like a few years?

    There was so much deception in this novel, if I encountered any of the characters in this book I would run the other direction!

    I will post more later -- I know some really enjoyed this book and other didn't like it at all. My idea of a good book club book is one that sparks discussion, sometimes the worst book is a great BC selection. Let's see what happens with A Reliable Wife.

  2. Mari, I agree with you about this book. I just didn't like it that much, despite the amazing reviews I had read about it. I reviewed it on my blog back in June - here's the link: Since it has been a month and a half since I read the book, I will cut and paste a bit from my review.

    I had read a lot about the twists and turns, the suspense and the intrigue, and while that was all true, there were some things I just didn't like about it. Goolrick's writing is descriptive and dramatic, but the narration became repetitive and inconsistent at times. Characters would undergo total transformations within a page or two, which was jarring. Ralph and Tony were obsessed with sex, to the point where it got boring to read about it. The whole book took place over about 9 months, but it felt like years had passed based on the descriptions in the book of monotony and repetition as well as the character development. It all just seemed inconsistent.

    I enjoyed some of the historical background - the descriptions of St. Louis and Wisconsin at the turn of the century, as well as the period detail. And I found it to be a compelling read, while I was in the midst of it. I wanted to know what would happen next and I was eager to pick the book up whenever I could. But in the end, it was unsatisfying. I found it unnecessarily dramatic - many reviews have used the word "heavy-handed" - and that it ultimately didn't make a lot of sense.


  3. I really liked this book, but you could really tell a man wrote the book. I think if a woman had written it, the parts about sex and sexual addiction would have been much shorter. And the book really would have benefitted from that. Yet another book that could easily have been shorter without losing a thing. But I really enjoyed the character development and the twists and turns.

  4. Thanks Gayle! I will add this link to the post online.

    I do not typically read this genre (dark and twisted) and as you mentioned the reviews pulled me in. I know several MMBC members that loved this book, which is great news.

    I wasn't able to get past the deception and wondered a bit about the author. Didn't hate the book - just haven't read anything like this before. I'm still deciding... I do think it's a great book club selection.

  5. I completely agree about the timing--I could not believe it all took place in 9 months, it also felt more like years to me.

    I have to say, I probably would have never picked this book up on my own and once I started reading it went back and forth. Liked the beginning, then had to really work my way through parts, but interestingly enough, could not seem to put it down. I think there was enough going on for me in the big picture that I was really curious how it would end. I found myself picking it up every chance I had even if it was only to read a few pages. The details of it, mainly all the sex addiction parts I also agree with the others who said these parts could have been much shorter and did not need to go on for pages at a time.

    As for characters, I could not stand Antonio. I thought he was a terrible person, despite what he encountered as a child, his behavior was so selfish and destructive. His recklessness toward his own life was one thing but his total disregard for others really irritated me. The widow who he had his fling with and ended up committing suicide with her child on the floor--that part was awful.

    My favorite character was Mrs. Larsen. Minor character for sure, but she seemed to keep things grounded and was a bit of fresh air at times in such a dark book. I appreciated her loyalty with so much deception going on with the others.

    Catherine. . .I did enjoy reading and seeing her character develop through the story. Not to say I liked what she was doing but I did grow to like her the more the book went on and once Antonio was out of the picture. I found her to be a mix--strong with what she had endured and done to help her sister Alice, yet incredibly weak when it came to Antonio. That bugged me.

    I'm sure I will have more to say, just wanted to get some initial thoughts out.


  6. I go back and forth on this one. Liked some things, didn't like others, but in the end it was one I was eager to keep reading and see how the story resolved.

    I liked the historical fiction and twisting storyline, but maybe the characters were left too mysterious?. We don't find out much about Catherine's background until the end of the book and I just didn't believe in her fast change of heart. And why on earth Ralph would have thought the poisoning was ok?? And I don't understand why Antonio even came back to Wisconsin. There was so much going on in this book, I thought it wrapped up too fast.

    Like other have mentioned, I could have done without all of the sex stuff. Parts were like an odd romance novel. And the religious elements I thought were oddly thrown in. But some of the tone reminded me of churches I've been do that were very doom and gloom. The part with the mother stabbing him with a pin was very graphic and disturbing. Made me wonder about the authors own upbringing.

    So not my favorite, but a good story with some dramatic characters and interesting motivations.


  7. Gretta, I forgot about the stabbing... makes me quiver a bit to think about it again.

    How could she just stand there?

  8. I absolutely love dark and twisted books, and find books fascinating that illuminate and explore people's motives and how they came to make what appears to be on the outside irrational decisions. I thought the characterizations, plot, details and pacing were wonderful, and would strongly recommend this book but again, it's not a book for everyone.

    Lisa D

  9. I just finished reading this. I really liked it. I liked that Ralph was so stoic in accepting the Catherine was poisening him. I liked that he felt he was paying for his sins. Now I'm going to read the comments.

  10. I didn't like Antonio either but when you understood all that had been done to him, I could understand how he could become that person. To have your mother abandon you, to have the person you believe is your father beat and abuse you, to find out that you are illegitimate--all of that would have a profound effect on a person. Ralph, Catherine and Antonio were all abused as children and all bore the scars.

  11. Has anyone ever read Giants in the Earth by OE Rolvaag? It's an old book, I read it in high school. As I was reading ARW I wsa reminded of GITE. It's a book about immagrants in MN and they struggle with desolation, isolation and horrible winters that drive people crazy. Those were the same feeling I got in ARW.

  12. Hi ladies!

    I have to admit that I loved this book. Once I got into it, I couldn't put it down. When I was reading the poisining, I was shocked! She could have had it all, why be so greedy? I hated her character, but was so happy she changed her mind! Ralph pissed me off, how could he love someone he knew was killing him? All that money he had, why did he allow this? And what was up with his obsession with his son, whom wasn't his son anyway? I felt so bad for Ralph, he was so lonely most of his life, just so sad. Overrall though, I liked the end, he would have a new baby, and would finally have that happy ending he deserved! Can't wait to read the next MMBC book! Happy reading everyone!

  13. I really enjoyed this book too. The book was definitely different than the other books we have read recently.

    Although I didn't like what Catherine was doing I appreciated that she was a strong woman who set a goal and was willing to do whatever was necessary to accomplish it.

    Ralph was an interesting character although I don't feel like I really understand how/why he made the decisions he did with regards to Catherine's affair with his son or her trying to kill him.

    As for a favorite character - I liked Mrs. Larsen too. She entered the story at times to give the characters a reality check that kept the story a little more grounded.

    I think the story would have been just as impactful without some of the detailed sex scenes. I found myself rushing through some of the scenes to get to the next part.

    In his interview Goolrick mentioned that he was inspired by classic authors and tried to give his books more depth. I agree that new fiction stories don't tend to stick with you. I finished this book a couple of weeks ago and find myself thinking about the story every now & then. His comments about his inspiration for his writing style hit home for me. Overall - good choice.

    Kim I

  14. I'm so glad to read the comments today. This book was a challenge for me, I had to read to the end to see how it ended, the character were cold and dark but as I read the book I thought.. if we were sitting in one room together we would have a lot to discuss.

    Tasha, I have the same questions and do not have the answers.

    I can't remember the last time I wavered so much on a book, did I like it? did I not like it? It's not a personal favorite but it is a really good book club selection if you are looking for a unique/different book (other than women's lit).

  15. Like the others, I wavered back and forth at the beginning of the book. There were enough surprises I wanted to keep reading. Even though it wasn't what I expected nor necessarily liked.

    The scene with the pin was very disturbing to me and yet, I feel like it fit in with the severe austere mother character. And while all the references to people losing their minds in the country winter set the scene for the extremeness of the fight between Ralph and Antonio, I found the repetition too much.

    I sympathized with Catherine even though she tried to kill Ralph. Ralph's acceptance of the arsenic was so odd to me. I can't imagine being in a place where that being poisoned seems reasonable and accepted.

    Good pick Mari. I'm still getting used to writing out my thoughts about a book again so long after my last english class!


  16. This book was too dark for me also. I considered not finishing it because I really didn't like it, but then I found myself curious about how it would end.
    i agree that it seemed like it took place over a much longer time than 9 months.
    I definnitely could tell that it was written by a man - the sex scenes were a bit too much and the sexual additions were a little too weird.
    I also thought that Catherine changing her mind about poisioning Ralph was weird. Once you've started, would you really reverse the effects??
    In all, it was not my type of book, but I'm glad I read it because it was different. I would have never picked it on my own.

  17. I really liked the book, it was a nice change from the same type of books I've been reading. It reminded me so much of the movie Original Sin with Antonio Banderas (my pseudo boyfriend! Yum!!) and Angelina Jolie (boo hiss!). In the beginning of the book I was sure it was the book the movie may've been based on but there are a few distinct differences. I'm not sure Angelina tried to kill Antonio, I'll have to rent it again to find out. I definitely encourage you to watch the movie though if you liked the book, the similarities are uncanning.

    I found the craziness of the town strange. The author kept referring to it but never really explained it very well.

    Kim B