A Reliable Wife
by Robert Goolrick
Discussion Questions:
1. The novel’s setting and strong sense of place seem to echo its mood and themes. What role does the wintry Wisconsin landscape play? And the very different, opulent setting of St. Louis?

2. Ralph’s and Catherine’s story frequently pauses to give brief, frequently horrific glimpses into the lives of others. Ralph remarks on the violence that surrounds them in Wisconsin, saying, “They hate their lives. They start to hate each other. They lose their minds, wanting things they can’t have.” How do these vignettes of madness and violence contribute to the novel’s themes?

3. Catherine imagines herself as an actress playing a series of roles, the one of Ralph’s wife being the starring role of a lifetime. Where in the novel might you see a glimpse of the real Catherine Land? Do you feel like you ever get to know this woman, or is she always hidden behind a façade?

4. The encounter between Catherine and her sister Alice is one of the pivotal moments of the novel. How do you view these two women after reading the story of their origins? Why do the two sisters wind up on such different paths? Why does Catherine ultimately lose hope in Alice’s redemption?

5. The idea of escape runs throughout the novel. Ralph thinks, “Some things you escape... You don’t escape the things, mostly bad, that just happen to you.” What circumstances trap characters permanently? How do characters attempt to escape their circumstances? When, if ever, do they succeed? How does the bird imagery that runs through the book relate to the idea of imprisonment and escape?

6. “You can live with hopelessness for only so long before you are, in fact, hopeless,” reflects Ralph. Which characters here are truly hopeless. Alice? Antonio? Ralph himself? Do you see any glimmers of hope in the story?

7. Why, in your opinion, does Ralph allow himself to be gradually poisoned, even after he’s aware of what’s happening to him? What does this decision say about his character?

8. Why does Catherine become obsessed with nurturing and reviving the “secret garden” of Ralph’s mansion? What insights does this preoccupation reveal about Catherine’s character?

9. Does Catherine live up in any way to the advertisement Ralph places in the newspaper (p. 20)? Why or why not?

10. Did you have sympathy for any of the characters? Did this change as time went on?

11. At the onset of A Reliable Wife the charactersare not good people. They have done bad things and have lived thoughtlessly. In the end how do they find hope?

12. At the onset of A Reliable Wife the charactersare not good people. They have done bad things and have lived thoughtlessly. In the end how do they find hope?

(Discussion Questions by Publisher)


Book Club Talking Points:
The intense writing style is what makes this book stand out and will also stimulate conversation for book clubs. The characters are all well developed and terribly flawed. Their actions consistently anger, confuse and surprise; all of which flow together for some healthy discussion. The basic needs of human beings and the measures one takes to satisfy them, as well as the desperation that accompanies loneliness and grief are also threads that will stimulate conversation. In general, readers seem to either love or hate this book, maybe due to the dark undertone or some of the circumstances and actions which defy logic. It will appeal to book clubs that enjoy well written character driven stories.
Looking for more reading suggestions?
Visit Our Blog
Browse A Little
Follow Us On Pinterest
Sign Up For Our Free Newsletter
PBR book reviews and Reading guides for book clubs
Sign Up For Our Free Newsletter
Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Pintrest Follow us on InstaGram
Free bookmarks
10 Books I Can't Stop Recommending