Robert Goolrick has written two books: a memoir, The End of the World as We Know It, and a novel, Reliable Wife.
Blurbs on the back of Goolrick’s memoir talk about the evils of alcoholism, but I think what happened to Goolrick at the hands of his father was way beyond anything one could blame on alcohol. It makes me tired to even talk about it. The memoir has that effect on you. Will these terrible things keep happening? Will the world never get any better?
Reliable Wife is the story of a mail-order bride who is not what is expected. I loved this book. Set in the snowy countryside of rural Wisconsin, it explores the lengths to which a man will go to satisfy his need to be touched. But it’s so much more than that.
Lines that are repeated nearly word for word in both these books offer a fascinating glimpse into the mind of the writer. The quotes: “She told me that, when I was born, I was such a beautiful baby that she wouldn’t pick me up for a year.” Later in the memoir, this line: “You wrote it because you’re wicked. You were born wicked. You’re wicked now. You’ll die wicked.”
In Goolrick’s second book, these words: “You were born a wicked child, so wicked I wouldn’t pick you up for a year. And you’ll grow into a wicked adult. Born wicked. Die wicked.”
In the memoir Goolrick is unable to decide if the remark by his mother is vicious or adoring. Either way, the child suffers. In the novel, the mother is so obsessed with religion, any moment of sensuality is a terrible sin. The boy grows up, craving, insatiably craving, the thing she denied him: the touch of another person. He advertises for a “reliable wife.” Catherine Land answers his ad, comes to Wisconsin, and things begin to happen. Things you can’t imagine.
A glimpse into Goolrick’s mind? A mother who would not hold her baby, fondle him, smile at him? What devastation we women can do to our loved ones, if we choose. It’s the theme of Reliable Wife.
Goolrick is, I think, obsessed with women and the effect they have on men. I think he’s a writer to watch.