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Novel Insights » Topic: PART III


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March 29, 2012 at 1:56 pm #314


If you’re finished, what did you think of the book??

Some discussion questions to get you thinking: (from the official reading group guide)

  • Does Catherine live up in any way to the advertisement Ralph places in the newspaper (page 20)? Why or why not?
  • At the onset of A Reliable Wife the characters are not good people. They have done bad things and have lived thoughtlessly. In the end how do they find hope?
  • Did you have sympathy for any of the characters? Did this change as time went on?

April 26, 2012 at 10:24 am #341


Catherine redeemed herself in my eyes, which was hard to do because I nearly hated her in part two and figured she would be despicable until the end. I felt sorry for Ralph as he continued to forgive her even though he knew she was poisoning him. I was upset with him for totally giving up, but at this point I knew that he would even forgive her for lying and was waiting for Catherine to do the right thing.

As the story went on, she stopped poisoning him and I think that’s when I started liking Catherine. She was always thinking about what was right, and how she loved Ralph, but never did anything about it. I think this was the first time she accepted that it was possible to be happy with things as they were. When Tony arrived I thought she would be tempted and fail, but she surprised me with her dedication to Ralph and being happy with what she had. I felt like she was setting an example to oppose what Ralph had said earlier in part two, that people will eventually hate their surroundings and go mad. Catherine did it backwards and eventually learned it was okay to love Ralph, the house, and her garden. It was nice to see her happy, and prove there is a way out through accepting how nice your life already is.

I have to point out that at this point, the sex references were still there but not as alarming. However, I thought the author still completely overdid it. When Tony was sobbing in his childhood bedroom, it did not need to be related to the relief of having sex. I honestly thought that metaphor was ridiculous at such a moving part in the story where I actually felt some pity for this character I hated.

But moving on.

I was waiting for Tony to explode. I thought maybe he would kill Catherine or Ralph while they slept, but when he advanced on Catherine I was again surprised that she resisted. At this point I was practically cheering for her and Ralph to have a happy ending. I knew that once Ralph walked in, one of them would die. I have to admit I found it refreshing for Ralph to be completely enraged after seeing him placid, withdrawn, and so in control of every emotion he felt. He cracked, which was realistic and nice to see. (Probably not so nice for Tony.)

I like the days of silence that occurred after Tony’s death. I was afraid Catherine and Ralph would be giddy and run off into the sunset, but instead they appropriately mourned and things were awkward for a while. The ending did not surprise me, as I kind of sensed the twist and knew Ralph would forgive her anyway. I like that it ends with her taking his hand and walking back inside, him finally knowing she was pregnant, and the author did a great job at tying everything together with the phrase used throughout the book. “Such things happen.” There is hope and happiness, but you have to forgive and you have to accept loving all that you already have. Tony was the one who didn’t understand this.

All that being said, I liked the book. There are many things I didn’t like about it, but it was a very quick read and had me hooked trying to figure out what would happen next and if anyone would be happy. I think if the ending would have been more of a tragedy, I wouldn’t have liked the book. But I was satisfied with the ending and, despite jumbling through sex metaphors on every other page, I ended up liking Ralph and Catherine individually and as a couple. The writing was done well, but I’m surprised the author’s editor didn’t advise that the amount of sexual references was a bit much. If removed, I think the author could have added more subsistence to the book.

April 27, 2012 at 1:59 am #345


I enjoyed reading your post, Marjorie :) Your thoughts mirror a lot of my own!

First of all, I think most of us (if not all of us) agree — the sexual references was too much. Not in a prude-ish way, but damn, not everything has to be about sex!

Other than that though, I did enjoy the book! I am by no means in love with it, but it was an enjoyable read. This was a very character driven book, and I read so few like this (I don’t know why, I guess I gravitate towards the drama-filled, action-orientated novels more!) so it was particularly different and refreshing for me.

I really enjoyed the theme of redemption in this book, and I felt Catherine embodied that very well. Ralph, of course, tries to make amends with Tony, and Tony tries to come to terms with what he has become (forgive himself, I suppose), but I don’t know, I felt Catherine learned the most from all her experiences. Which is funny because I feel she is the one I feel the least pity for. But since Ralph never really gets to make amends with his son, and Tony was just so full of hatred that he was too far gone, I think Catherine was the only one who had success in forgiving herself and redeeming herself. ESPECIALLY the whole arsenic episode. I was actually really shocked that she was going through with the plan anyway, since she seemed to genuinely care about Ralph, but I’m super glad she decided not to.

On a different note, I thought Ralph was too forgiving at times but I guess with his history, he was tired of fighting and regrets. Still … if someone tried to KILL me … I don’t think I would be so forgiving …

To answer the discussion questions:

1. I can’t really remember the ad, but whether Catherine was an honest woman –> I don’t think she lived up to the ad if we’re going by the dictionary definition of honest. She lied about many things and uh, tried to kill Ralph. But I think she kind of did live up to being a RELIABLE wife. She became loyal to Ralph and even while she was poisoning him, she was so regretful about it, as she was basically forced to do it.

2. I think both Tony and Ralph found hope in Catherine. Tony, hoping Catherine would kill Ralph. And Ralph, loving Catherine breathed life into him. As for Catherine, I’m not sure. Ralph definitely had a part, but I don’t think it’s quite the same for her, as it was for Ralph.

3. I addressed this above :)

April 27, 2012 at 10:21 am #349


Loved your response too, Jinny!

“This was a very character driven book [...]“.

Thanks for mentioning this, I remember wanting to bring this up too. This was absolutely a character driven book and I tend to love those. I think this can sometimes lead people not to enjoy a book, if they don’t like character driven stories. I know it bores some people because there’s actually nothing going on in the world around them. However, I love studying people. So anything character driven, as long as the characters are well thought out, makes me happy.

“On a different note, I thought Ralph was too forgiving at times but I guess with his history, he was tired of fighting and regrets. Still … if someone tried to KILL me … I don’t think I would be so forgiving …”

I agree, it was unrealistic. However, I never really rolled my eyes because I saw it all just to be making a point. I think during the time he was being poisoned he had completely given up. He wanted to die, and maybe finding out the truth about Catherine was kind of the trigger for that.

One thing that always did bother me a bit is WHY Ralph loved Catherine so much from the beginning. Sure, she ended up changing. But other than sexual attraction, I wish the author would have explained why Ralph was so in love with her that he forgave her over and over again. Was it the connection she had with the home? Her discussions with him? I wish the author would have set that up. One thing I DO know is he was immensely attracted to her. But even that doesn’t give reason to his actions.

  • This reply was modified 2338 days ago by  Marjorie.
May 3, 2012 at 9:55 pm #351


So, I finally finished! 2 out of 4 books is getting there right? ha…

I kinda skimmed through the discussions so far and everything I read I pretty much agree with. I didn’t expect so much sex in the book, it kinda went overboard but it really went into developing how much father and son were alike in some ways and how Catherine could be attracted to them.

I kept waiting for Catherine to try and poison Tony from the point when we found out her plans in St. Louis. Regardless I’m happy with how things turned out. I do wish the author had better developed Ralphs character and what he was thinking about other than sex. Why he just accepted Catherine and forgave her so easily from the start of the book until the end. He forgave her for lying, for deceiving him, for poisoning him, everything.

I’m really surprised how much I liked Catherines character near the end. She changed for the better and finally found herself. I think it would have been nice if she had told Ralph the truth but then Tony wouldn’t have blown up and raped her, ect, ect.

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