It really steams me how much people devalue the romance genre. Such terms as “bodice ripper” and the most derogatory of them all “porn”, really gets me going. Imagine my surprise when I was looking at the reviews for A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick, a book that had caught my attention while running errands in Target, I saw quite a few of the one stars littered liberally with these descriptions. Truthfully I never quite believe most of the reviews on Amazon because taste is so uniquely personal that not everyone is going to enjoy the same thing. What I’m usually looking at in the reviews is a balanced ratio of like to dislike. Not completely scientific but mostly accurate when I branch out with a new author.
Mr. Goolrick’s reviews appeared to pass muster of my little system but it was the frequent usage of disparaging comparisons of the romance genre to his story that really had me intrigued. There was an almost puritanical fervor in the prose reviewers used in their scathing critique of his fiction. While in the positive recommendations of the work there was very little mentioned about the sex some found so offensive. Of course I didn’t read all the reviews but the little I did read led me to believe I needed to get this book.
The book is set during the early decades of the Twentieth Century during winter in Wisconsin. There is a wealthy businessman in need of a wife and a mysterious woman in need of a wealthy husband in order to become a wealthy widow. I was immediately sold when in the description of the book I knew the mysterious woman was planning to kill the wealthy businessman. Devious and a bit twisted you may think but I was intrigued non the less. Now as the title of this blog implies, this is not a review but instead a rant. The book was often overly flowery in its descriptions and had a surreal quality of time and space that left me feeling adrift at times, but what I can definitely say is this was no “bodice ripper” or “porn”.
This was a story about isolation both the physical and the emotional. The subsequent darkness and often madness that such isolation causes and the promise of redemption that sex and all its intimacies can deliver. There are no quaint little drawing rooms where Victorian etiquette is practiced by the hero and heroine. There may be a villain but the face of his character changes constantly throughout the narrative that at times I couldn’t quite decide what was particularly villainous. My rant is centered around the fact that there is such a lack of respect for the genre that I love and write in that a book that does have sex, however tragic in its presentation, is written off as pure smut.
While the language was a disjointed stream of consciousness that upon reflection accurately described the disjointed reality of the characters, the sex was in my opinion frank and accurate. It was at times sweet and tender with a edge of malice. It was raw and animalistic with a hint of the divine while whispering its blasphemies. Did it sound like a male narrative of the act, yes, and was I often put off by this maleness that expressed sexuality so differently than my own, quite possibly. Does that mean I get on my moral high horse and diss an entire genre of fiction because said sex didn’t always prescribe to my definitions, no. Or because I thought this book was supposed to be “gothic” or a “suspense” I rip it to shreds because it has several scenes of copulation, absolutely not.
I really think people need to get over themselves and put down their scarlet letters. Sex in a story does not devalue it in the same way that sex alone can’t make it better. When I finished the book I couldn’t really say if I liked it or disliked it because I was haunted by a great deal of what was presented in the story and it didn’t have anything to do with the sex.
As for rants this is pretty mild in comparison to my usual tirades but as I still sit with the story, or more accurately as the story still sits with me, I had to share some of my ire.