Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Reliable Wife: An Unreliable Read

I had a funny conversation while out with a few girlfriends the other night. “Do you ever read books just for fun, beach read kinds of books?” one of them asked me. “No,” I replied, explaining that I just really like good writing, and fluffy books don’t engage me. I’m a literary snob, I know.
You won’t, therefore, generally find me reading bestsellers, but now and then I do try to read a book that I hear the people who take my classes talking about. If it’s good upscale commercial fiction, I’ll give it a try. What do I put in this category? The Help, for example. Well-written, good story. I liked it. There are other books I want to read that, from what I hear, I suspect fall into this category, books such as Sarah’s Key or Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. They’re on my list.

Another book I had heard about in this way is A Reliable Wife. So when I professed my literary snobbiness to my friends and they asked me what I was reading, I told them I had just started this book. Little did I know that A Reliable Wife would turn out to be merely wearing the cloak of literary fiction, but that underneath lay the heaving bosom of a bodice-ripper.

Yes, it’s reasonably well-written, although the faux-Victorian third person voice is often stiff and awkward. Yes, he draws vivid characters and creates a strong portrait of the landscape in which the story takes place, the frozen winter world of northern Wisconsin. But really, the book is about sex. Who’s having it, who’s not having it, and a main character who pretty much thinks about it non-stop. The only difference is, unlike the more traditional romance-novel plot, in this book the rape scene takes place at the end of the book.
I did a quick scan of some reviews to see how I became so misled about this book.

Here are two reviews I found:

"A tantalizing pace that will have you flipping faster and faster through the pages . . . A beautiful and haunting read, a story about all the different manifestations of love—a story that will stay with you." —Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Robert Goolrick's A Reliable Wife is my must-read recommendation . . . This engrossing and addictive novel will leave you both chilled and satisfied." —Chris Livingston, Summer's Best reads on NPR’s Morning Edition

Well, I really don’t agree with those critics, it turns out. But wait, here’s what The Washington Post has to say:

"A Reliable Wife," isn't just hot, it's in heat: a gothic tale of such smoldering desire it should be read in a cold shower. This is a bodice ripper of a hundred thousand pearly buttons, ripped off one at a time with agonizing restraint. It works only because Goolrick never cracks a smile, never lets on that he thinks all this overwrought sexual frustration is anything but the most serious incantation of longing and despair ever uttered in the dead of night.”

I guess I read the wrong reviews!  

Sunday, February 12, 2012

In the Rooms by Tom Shone

Leaving for a short trip to Florida, I went to the library in search of a book to bring along. Something about the spine of In the Rooms caught my attention--a miniaturized version of the cover art, a glass of booze with a pencil as a stirrer--so I took it off the shelf. When I read in the flap copy that it was the story of a literary agent in New York, I thought "this is my kind of book!" and checked it out and took it home to learn more. I enjoyed the first few pages enough to make a commitment to make it my vacation book (yes, I have an eReader - in fact my family has both a Kindle and Nook--and yet...). It did not disappoint, and made for compelling and engaging reading, and kept me busily and happily occupied until the end of the short trip. (I had brought a second book just in case, which I began on the plane ride home.)
Walking to work with a hangover one morning, British transplant Patrick Miller sees a man walking through Washington Square Park who resembles a famous beloved author. He follows the man to see if it is in fact who he thinks it is (it is), and follows him straight into an AA meeting. Patrick's allegedly phony alcoholism, his hunt to put himself on the literary agent map by scoring this new author, and the characters he meets at AA make for an engaging and well-told story. I was disappointed in the final ten pages or so and how he wrapped the story up, but Shone is a good storyteller and I enjoyed the book.