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Topic: Discussion of A Reliable Wife

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Subject: Discussion of A Reliable Wife
Date Posted: 2/1/2012 10:44 PM ET
Member Since: 8/9/2005
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Sorry I'm late guys, I was expecting to get off of work at 5:30 but wound up staying until almost close finishing up some stuff. Anywhoodles the question of the day today is: The novels setting and 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?

To me the landscapes represented the men. Wisconsin was like Ralph, hard and forbidding on the surface but peaceful and safe once the story progressed. St. Louis was like Tony, flashy and fancy but shallow and dangerous. I think Catherine's feelings toward the places echoed her feelings toward the men. Once she realized she loved Ralph she began to love Wisconsin and once she began to realize that Tony was no good she began to realize that she didn't like St. Louis any more.

Date Posted: 2/1/2012 10:47 PM ET
Member Since: 5/29/2007
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Ummmm, yeah what you said. I am not as well spoken as all you ladies on here, I feel a little intimidated about putting my opinions down. I actually do agree with you Chris, I really hadn't thought about it in those terms until you said something but it does seem pretty obvious now.

Date Posted: 2/1/2012 11:30 PM ET
Member Since: 7/10/2011
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Interesting idea, Chris. 

My first thought was that the landscapes echoed Catherine's mood and intent.  Dark, desolate, snow, cold as she was feeling inside.  Opulence of the city representing her former self in the decadence.  There was a parallel in that she lost her jewelry in the snow, somewhat forshadowing that she would eventually leave her former life behind.

Date Posted: 2/2/2012 12:47 AM ET
Member Since: 8/9/2005
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No need to feel intimidated Melissa, I think you are well spoken and not giving yourself enough credit. Besides, even if you weren't if the ladies can refrain from making fun of my atrocious grammar I'm sure they wouldn't make fun of you for anything. cheeky

I didn't think of that about the jewelry Carole but it does make sense.

Barb S. (okbye) - ,
Date Posted: 2/2/2012 1:16 PM ET
Member Since: 3/14/2011
Posts: 5,767
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Don't worry Melissa, I have communications issues too. I don't let it intimidate me though, I just explain and edit a lot, lol. There's a few people I see post in CMT frequently that can't even put a complete sentence together and I haven't seen anyone make fun of them. We're cool around here baby! And it's even cooler in the basement.

I don't naturally look for symbolism in books, I would never have thought about the meaning behind losing her jewelry. It makes sense when someone says it but I would never spot it. (I have a feeling this is something Melissa and I may have in common) 

One of the things that hooked me into Scandinavian crime drama is the use of the bleak winter weather to set a tone. I don't think it was done as well here as the Scandinavian novels I've read so far but I can see where she was going. I didn't get the impression of glitz about St Louis, the clubs and hotel were posh but when describing the exterior scenes it seemed just as sludgy and dank as Wisconsin. Maybe that was the point, about the glitz being superficial, but I never really felt upper class when in the SL part. The bum row where she found her sister didn't help, just made the place seem like more of a dump. It seems everywhere she walked to in SL was through slush and mud. 

Did anyone else feel the teasers on the book didn't really describe the story? The way I took them before I read the book is that Ralph had something devious up his sleeve too. I kept waiting for his real, nefarious intent to be revealed. I have other thoughts but I guess we'll get there. Like was the groundskeeper going nuts just a bit out there or what? Why do people regularly go crazy in this town? That's not normal, and it didn't really fit into the story. Trying to create a sense of danger? I found it odd and distracting. 

Date Posted: 2/2/2012 6:33 PM ET
Member Since: 8/9/2005
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Thus we come to question two, thanks for the segue Barb. wink

Ralph and Catherine's story frequently pauses to give brief, often 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." (Page 205.) How do these vignettes of madness and violence contribute to the novel's themes?

Again I think they reflect on Ralph, even though he at first didn't become violent I think he was going crazy there in his own way. He sort of prided himself on being more civilized than the people who lived near him and worked for him but he hid all of his incivility from the world and let it fester under the surface. When he beat Tony it was like a cork popping off a pressurized bottle in pretty much the same way all of those people went crazy on each other. I also think that his remark of wanting things they can't have was sort of pointed to himself as well. He believed that he couldn't have happiness and normalcy and in the end I think he made that a self fulfilling prophecy of sorts.

Date Posted: 2/2/2012 7:10 PM ET
Member Since: 7/10/2011
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Barb, I completely agree about the story not living up to the teasers.  His agenda of having Catherine go to get Tony really didn't hold up in my opinion.  It was too weird of a plot point, and didn't live up to my expectations based on the synopsis.

Chris, your point about Ralph having a self fulfilling prophecy is another great insight.  I hadn't really given that much thought.

Barb S. (okbye) - ,
Date Posted: 2/2/2012 8:40 PM ET
Member Since: 3/14/2011
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I was waiting for Ralph to say he knew who she was all along and that's why he sent her after Tony, but he didn't. That's the only way it would really have made sense. Why did he think some woman Tony had never met would be able to drag him home and why was that the first task for his new wife? And why did he allow her to stay so long? The book wasn't good about providing a time line, or I wasn't good at picking up on it, but it seemed winter lasted a really long time and she was in SL for months. Maybe she wrote too many times about Catherine wiling away her days feeding her bird or shopping or watching Tony, it made her seem like she was there too long. 

I grew up in a small town in Illinois so I know about how long winter can seem and we had tv and stuff to distract ourselves in the 70's but no one went crazy and massacred their family. I don't think they used to before tv either. I just couldn't buy it happening so much and people thinking it was normal. It's like the town is built on a gas leak or something. It seems to me that a lot of things are put in this book just to try and make it seem more ominous, like the teasers saying it is a nefarious, sinister plot and the unusual madness going on around the town. Like they're trying to make the book something it isn't. I don't know what they think is wrong with the book it is, it was an original story with an interesting plot line and they kind of got in it's way trying to beef it up. I would eliminate the craziness altogether if I were editing that book and stop trying so hard to be sinister. The book was fine at it's core. I could feel Ralph going a little bonkers without the town madness because she wrote in plenty of reasons for him to go mad, his background justified it on it's own. I agree he let it loose on Tony but that made sense on it's own too. 

Date Posted: 2/3/2012 12:34 AM ET
Member Since: 8/9/2005
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Ralph does eventually tell Catherine that he knew about her and Tony doesn't he? Did I just make that up to make the story make sense?

Also the crazies in Wisconsin are not really believable but there are a lot of midwestern serial killers, Holmes, Gein, Gacey, Dahmer, BTK, etc. Maybe that is where Mr. Goolrick developed the idea that midwesterners go crazy and kill each other willy nilly because of boredom.

Barb S. (okbye) - ,
Date Posted: 2/3/2012 5:59 PM ET
Member Since: 3/14/2011
Posts: 5,767
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He said the private detectives told him Catherine was seeing Tony in SL when she was sent there, not that he chose her because he knew she was with Tony. Or maybe I read that wrong, that's what I got out of it though. It's quite possible I read it wrong, I almost always read before going to sleep and sometimes the last few things I read get garbled. 

 

Date Posted: 2/4/2012 12:15 AM ET
Member Since: 8/9/2005
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Hmm I dunno and I don't wanna go back to read and find out.

Today's question is: Catherine imagines herself an actress playing a series of roles, the one of Ralph's wife being the staring role of a lifetime. Where in the novel might you see a glimpse of the real Catherine Land? Do you feel that you ever get to know this woman, or is she always hidden behind a facade?

I think that is the real Catherine, she is the person she pretends to be because she is nothing without the roles. She's just an empty shell until she meets Ralph and she uses roles and people to fill herself up.

Date Posted: 2/6/2012 12:09 AM ET
Member Since: 8/9/2005
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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 sister wind up on such different paths? Why does Catherine ultimately lose hope in Alices's redemption?

I found Alice to be more of a distraction than a plot twist. She was a severely one dimensional character with no clear purpose, at least to me, in the story. I suppose her appearence in the story was meant to mark the beginning of Catherine letting go of her old life. Other than that Alice has no real place in the story for me.

Barb S. (okbye) - ,
Date Posted: 2/6/2012 2:06 PM ET
Member Since: 3/14/2011
Posts: 5,767
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I didn't see much use for her either, maybe to show Catherine once had a bit of humanity in her or another reason why she gave up on life. It seems to me Catherine spoiled her rotten and then she went mental. Her extreme decline was a little weird. Another thing the story would have been fine without. It goes back to what I said about the people going crazy, I get the feeling some things were thrown in there as afterthoughts when someone told her she had to beef it up. 

I thought I had posted a response to the previous question, must have been a dream! I think she is always in there, she just repressed her inner self to do what she felt she needed to do when she was abandoned. I think she had given up on ever being a whole person again but the situation with Ralph made her change her mind, much to her surprise.

Date Posted: 2/6/2012 8:52 PM ET
Member Since: 7/10/2011
Posts: 2,353
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I agree with you both, Chris and Barb.  Distracting and not really integral to the story.

Sorry I have been a little awol, too much work, and a new addiction to Pinterest.

Date Posted: 2/7/2012 1:08 AM ET
Member Since: 8/9/2005
Posts: 20,024
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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." (Page 5-6) What circumstances trap characters permanently? How do characters attempt escape their circumstances? When,if ever, do they succeed? How does the bird imagery that runs throughout the book relate to the idea of imprisonment and escape? First off, what bird imagery? The only bird I noticed was the pet bird Catherine kept. They were all trapped by their past lives and are trying to use other people to solve their problems. Anypoodle, my server is down and I'm typing this on my phone so I'll leave off there and come back to this tomorrow if I get the chance
Date Posted: 2/7/2012 6:47 PM ET
Member Since: 7/10/2011
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The only other bird reference I could find (and I had to go look for it) was when she was preparing to go home again, and was thinking of death.  She thinks of death from arsenic, and other ways to kill herself (to escape from the plan), including falling from her hotel window "like a black bird".  

Alice takes no help to escape from her horrid life, only escaping through dying.  Her death is the only way that Catherine can leave her.  Ralph escapes the pain of his loss by hiding in his house and isolating himself.  His escape from his pain comes in his desire for Catherine after they are together.  Antonio's funeral is a way of burying the past.  Catherine's pregnancy is the final escape from that past for both her and Ralph.  Question though, since she slept with both of them, how did she know the baby was Ralphs?  Or did she just tell him that it was as a way to move forward?

It seems the book questions are a lot deeper than the book itself.  I found the story superficial, the imagery too forced, and the plot just plain too convoluted.  I think the biggest problem I had with it was the writing style.  It made it difficult to actually follow what little action there was with all the delving into the character's thoughts and memories.  Mainly I was bored.  One star.

Date Posted: 2/7/2012 9:23 PM ET
Member Since: 5/29/2007
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I'm with you Carole, it just didn't do it for me.

Date Posted: 2/7/2012 11:06 PM ET
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Server is still down so I'm just gonna put the question in and answer it later if I can. "You can live with hopelessness for only so long before you are, in fact, hopeless," reflects Ralph (page 8). Which characters here are truly hopeless? Alice? Antonio? Ralph himself? Do you see any glimmers of hope in the story?
Barb S. (okbye) - ,
Date Posted: 2/8/2012 2:12 PM ET
Member Since: 3/14/2011
Posts: 5,767
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I didn't notice a bird theme either. 

I think IRL hopeless is very different for different people and different people have different tolerances for it. Some people live with it all their lives, especially over physical difficulties and do just fine. I think Alice is the only one who may have crossed a line that she couldn't get back over, the rest were just whiny and unwilling to help themselves. 

Date Posted: 2/8/2012 5:42 PM ET
Member Since: 7/10/2011
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+1 Barb

My problem with this book is that it is primarily a character study, but the synopsis made me expect more intrigue and plot twists.

Date Posted: 2/8/2012 6:40 PM ET
Member Since: 5/29/2007
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I do think Alice was hopeless and not willing to even try anymore. I was going to say Antonio too but I think maybe he was just bitter and unwilling to forgive. He could have had it all if he would have just gotten over himself.

Date Posted: 2/8/2012 10:44 PM ET
Member Since: 8/9/2005
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Since he died before any true resolution I think Tony may also count as hopeless but I agree that they were all just really superficial and whiny.

K Question of the day: Why, in your opinion, does Ralph allow himself to be poisoned, even after he is aware of what is happening to him? What does this decision say about his character?

I'm pretty sure Ralph explains himself in one of his ten page narratives, he simply beleives that he deserves it for the live he lived and what he did to Tony as a child.

I agree the questions are way deeper than the story. I'm thinking the publisher is putting on airs a bit here.

Barb S. (okbye) - ,
Date Posted: 2/9/2012 3:45 PM ET
Member Since: 3/14/2011
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Yeah, he pretty much comes out and says he thinks he deserves it. He also may not have been able to live with Catherine's betrayal even though the writer didn't pick up that idea. It seems to me he wouldn't be able to anyway. If I were a man who was starting to let another woman in my life after my wife betrayed me and I find out she's poisoning me, well it may just be easier to take the poison than to deal with another betrayal. Especially if I've been a bastard.

Date Posted: 2/9/2012 9:12 PM ET
Member Since: 11/12/2011
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I'm butting into to say HI and wave! I feel like a dork who did their homework but didn't turn it in. What kind of dork does that? I read A Reliable Wife and am still jazzed to dicuss it, but oye, it feels like catching up. On the other hand, it will be a pleasure to finally some time to pour over this conversation. But when, when? Don't know exactly but at least I'm done my annual longest and most stressful day. Wheeww. See you all later.

Date Posted: 2/9/2012 11:06 PM ET
Member Since: 8/9/2005
Posts: 20,024
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Question of the day: 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?

I think she is projecting guilt onto the garden, she knows she is going to destroy Ralph so she is going to revive something else.

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