Saturday, January 9, 2010

Book Review: The Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick

Once again, this is a debut novel by an author who has great potential, with his ability to write about life in a revealing way, that shows the inner grubs that lay hidden beneath the rocks. The language is sparse, lyrical, and in the beginning, very well done.

But as this is a debut novel, and most authors do not write their masterpieces right out of the gate, this book does has its flaws. There are paragraphs that are identical in message and tone, almost right next to each other, as if one wasn't enough. Some of the plot lines come from nowhere, and dissolves into nowhere, leaving a spot that is essential to the plot, but not woven into it.
In some areas I was left longing for the lyrical writings of Ian McEwan, as he wrote in Enduring Love, but I ended up getting that of his Cement Garden. So his style is not yet to the potential that he has. His message, though, is very much there.

Like in The Piano Teacher, and in other books, there were spots of time in which, if the character had stopped, and lived, it would have been a happy ending. There were times of peace for Charlene, in Ralph's farmhouse at the beginning, while reading Whitman and taking walks in the frozen wasteland. Or in St. Louis, reading books of gardening in the libraries. In each of these cases, she had sustained some level of contentment. And this is the state we all yearn to arrive at one day. However, much like the characters in the book, this is not possible for any of us. Further steps are taken, the center cannot hold, to quote Keats. For people desire more than just contentment. They want the pleasures and wild joys that one only finds at the peaks of emotions, little knowing that, in most cases, the depths of depression lie just over the cliff.

Goolrick takes the decadent life that the characters like Antonio has and shows what happens when people take that step away from contentment. It reminds me, again, of the party scene in Cloverfield, where self-indulgent 20 somethings drink away the night, talking about their futures as if nothing could stop them, little knowing the monster about to attack their city. The prostitutes and their men, the druggies and the people that supply them, they all played the game and end up, at the end, where Charlene's sister did, in the slums.

The book is about control and happiness, and in the end, the conclusion that, much like Voltaire's Candide, the only happiness to reach in this world is when we "tend our gardens." The work of creating beauty out of a world of chaos, raising a family, this is what Voltaire and Goolrick try to achieve at the end. But as in Candide, the journey is not without heartbreak, loss, unspeakable joys, and unspeakable horrors.

I look forward to his next book, as his writing craft will undoubtedly improve. The book gave me much to think about, and much to write on, which is all I can ask.

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