A woman with her own agenda is caught between two men obsessed with the past.
After breaking through with a disquieting memoir about his Southern childhood, Goolrick (The End of the World as We Know It, 2007) applies his storytelling talents to a debut novel, set in 1907, about icy duplicity and heated vengeance. The autumn of Ralph Truitt’s life finds the 54-year-old businessman waiting on a train platform in rural Wisconsin for Catherine Land, the plain woman who answered his advertisement, which read: “Country businessman seeks reliable wife. Compelled by practical, not romantic reasons.” But the beauty who arrives is not the woman whose photograph Truitt obsessed over, and she’s conspiring against him. “What she wanted, of course, was a quick marriage to Ralph Truitt, followed by his painless demise,” Goolrick writes. “What she wanted was both love and money, and she was not to have either except through Ralph, except, in fact, after Ralph.” Carefully, the author unveils the secrets between husband and wife. Truitt confesses his losses, which include his daughter, who died, his first wife, who had an affair, and his runaway son, who fled the violence suffered under his father’s hand. The enigmatic Catherine does her best to hide her bleak history as a courtesan, undertaken to protect her sister, Alice, whom she still seeks. Surprisingly, there’s more to Truitt than the bottomless lust and rage that threatens to consume him, as the faithless Catherine discovers when he dispatches her to St. Louis to find his long-lost son, who is playing piano under the name Tony Moretti, a name she knows all too well. Back in Wisconsin, the three parties converge and are pushed toward an unpredictable yet inevitable endgame.
A sublime murder ballad that doesn’t turn out at all the way one might expect.