Set in a small Wisconsin farming and manufacturing town still crumbling a decade after the depression of the 1890s, A Reliable Wife tells the story of Ralph Truitt, a wealthy businessman who advertises for “a reliable wife” in newspapers across America. The woman he chooses, Catherine Land, describes herself as “a simple, honest woman,” but in truth she is both complex and devious— not the missionary’s daughter she claims to be in her letter to Truitt but a courtesan of great beauty, kept by men and haunted by a terrible past. Catherine’s plan in accepting the marriage offer is simple: she will win this man’s devotion, and then, ever so slowly, she will poison him and leave Wisconsin a wealthy widow. What she has not counted on, though, is the passion she finds in this seemingly solid, forthright man—a man who also harbours secrets and whose own past is far from pure.
Filled with remarkable characters and drenched with colour and atmosphere, A Reliable Wife is a story of love and madness, longing and murder, played out in a world that seems to have gone temporarily off its axis.