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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


Books by Debra Hamel:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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Goolrick, Robert: A Reliable Wife

  Amazon  

4 stars

The first chapter of Robert Goolrick's A Reliable Wife is superb. Fifty-something Ralph Truitt is waiting on a train platform in the snow. It's 1907. It's middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin. The locals have to come to watch--to see the man everyone in the town works for meet his new wife for the first time--so there's a crowd, but he's alone, disconnected from humanity.

"Standing in the center of the crowd, his solitude was enormous. He felt that in all the vast and frozen space in which he lived his life--every hand needy, every heart wanting something from him--everybody had a reason to be and a place to land. Everybody but him. For him there was nothing. In all the cold and bitter world, there was not a single place for him to sit down."

Ralph has ulterior motives for the impending marriage, and he has something painful in his past that we haven't learned of yet. He is a highly sympathetic character at the outset, and the author has created great suspense from the quiet few minutes described in the chapter. Later in the story we learn that the woman Ralph's waiting for also has ulterior motives, and she is not immediately sympathetic. But as the story continues, our perceptions of both characters shift.

A Reliable Wife is lyrical, with lengthy descriptive passages spent on the subjects of sex and misery. And more sex. The principal characters of the book are all or have all been hedonists, and their pleasures--current or remembered--are described lavishly. Goolrick's principals are also all, in the end, largely unsympathetic. They are none of them innocent. The author describes a bleak world filled with madness and cruelty and privation, where sex only allows people to forget temporarily the misery of their lives. It's not really a pleasant read.

Eventually, it's all too much. The sex and misery and callousness, finally, are over the top, and it's hard once that point is reached to take the story seriously. (My "oh, come on!" moment was on page 258, but your mileage may vary.) Still, you'll read it through to the end, because the story behind the melodrama is a good one.

Comments

1.

That writing sounds superb - worth reading for that alone, perhaps.

Great review - really whets my appetite.

2.

Why, thank you, Clare!

3.

What Clare said, but even more so....

4.

And thank you too, Susan! Gosh, this is rather heartening, getting comments like this.

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