Robert Goolrick Writing Styles in A Reliable Wife

Robert Goolrick
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Point of View

The narrative primarily unfolds from the parallel points of view of its two central characters, Ralph Truitt and Catherine Land. Most of the time, that point of view shifts from chapter to chapter, not necessarily alternatively but frequently there are sections in which narrative focus stays longer with one than with the other. For example, the entirety of Section 2 focuses almost entirely on Catherine's viewpoint. There are occasional diversions into the point of view of other characters, most notably Antonio. This takes place often in the aforementioned Section 2, but also in the latter chapters of Section 3 in which Antonio's reactions to being back in his childhood home and to his father's overtures of relationship are examined in considerable detail. This sense of shifting point of view, of similar intensity of observation between the two main characters, reinforces the idea that they are in many ways co-protagonists, and also allows for and reinforces the emotional, spiritual, and experiential parallels between the two characters.

Another important point to note about the novel's point of view is that it makes no judgment or commentary on the behavior of the characters. It does not suggest, for example, that Catherine's duplicity is bad or that Truitt's capacity for forgiveness is good. What it does is portray the characters thoroughly, good and bad points alike, as well as the character's judgments upon themselves. In other words, the narrative seems to be written from the perspective that it is up to the reader, not the author, to define how negatively the reader should see the characters. In that sense, the book's overall point of view could well be described as quite objective, in spite of the fact that it focuses intently on the characters' subjective experiences of themselves.

Setting

There are three important points to note about the novel's setting. The first is its placement in time, specifically, the early years of the 20th Century, a time when mechanization and industrialization were only just becoming dominant forces in politics, in economics, and in society. It was a time of great energy and expansion, of opportunity and possibility, which makes it an appropriate setting for a narrative in which characters such as Catherine and Truitt are discovering and making the most of new spiritual opportunities. It's important to note, however, that this period was also a time of considerable moral conservativism, a time when the religion-dominated morality of people like Truitt's mother was extremely common, the measuring stick of virtually all personal and social behavior. Truitt and Catherine butt up against this morality in several ways with Truitt challenging it and Catherine pretending to play its game. Non-procreative sexuality or sex for a purpose other than making a baby was morally and socially frowned upon. This means that not only would the extramarital sexuality practiced by Catherine and Antonio have been profoundly frowned upon. It would also mean that the frequent, intense, and purposeful sex for pleasure experienced by Truitt and Catherine, even within the boundaries of their marriage vows, would also have been frowned upon.

The second important element of setting in the narrative relates to its setting in place. Here again, there are two points. The first is that the majority of the narrative is set in winter-isolated Wisconsin, which is cold, barren, and empty. The environment is portrayed throughout the novel as being a contributor to the kind of insanity that infects not only many of the people in the area around Truitt's home, but also, quite possibly, both Truitt and Catherine themselves. The second key point about the novel's setting in place is the contrast the narrative draws between the isolated life of the country and the lively, decadent, some might say corrupt life of the city. Immorality abounds and there is little or no portrayal of positivity in city life at all since the city is corrupt and corrupting and a clear contrast to the white and cold moral judgment associated with the white and cold winter of the countryside.

That, in turn, leads to the third key component of the book's setting, which is its placement during the year. It starts in the dead of winter, moves through that winter and into spring. This is a timeframe that reflects in quite a significant way the experiences and transformations of the characters.

Language and Meaning

The play's language is rich and often poetic, at times almost stream of consciousness in the intensity and detail with which it portrays the experiences of its characters, and the various environments, both geographical and architectural, in which those experiences take place. The inner and outer lives of the characters each receive the same sort of attention, although it's fairly clear that their inner lives of their feelings, their memories, their ideals, and their goals are of ultimately more interest to the author, who clearly defines relationships between the inner and the outer world. Feeling and motivation manifest as behavior, while behavior reveals feeling and motivation. The author describes feeling, motivation, and behavior in vivid and at times exquisite and at other times overwhelming detail. There are times, in fact, when the writing becomes almost gothic, ornate, and intimately specific, examining and commenting on an action or emotion with curlicues and embellishments of detail. This is particularly true of the narrative's many sex scenes, which are described with a sensual explicitness that is careful to not veer into the prurient, the crude, or the obscene. There is the occasional and unfortunate sense that the writer sometimes gets carried away with word and images and that story gets drowned out, momentarily, by description. There is possible value in this aspect of the work, in that on some level, all the characters are overwhelmed by feeling and desire. That said, there's a fine line to walk between that sort of overwhelming and the sort that engulfs the reader in words and images that, while colorful and evocative, are ultimately repetitive and borderline indulgent. In short, while the language is rich and engaging, the meaning it seems intended to communicate might have been edged or etched the same thing repeatedly.

Structure

The narrative's structure is essentially linear, moving from situation to situation, action to reaction to action, event to event in a fairly traditional, cause-and-effect fashion. In other words, its plot is basically horizontal and always moving forward. There are times however, when the narrative's movement becomes more vertical, with the author exploring the feelings and circumstances of a particular moment or experience in considerable detail before moving on to enacting how that moment effects and defines the moment to come next. Another point to note about the book's structure is how that structure is reflective of both its setting and the journeys of its characters. Weather is a symbolic reflection and evocation of the inner experiences of the characters, their situations, and transformations. The divisions within the book's structure including its three parts defined by their placement in the year, can therefore also be seen as reflecting situation and transformation. One final point to note about structure is that it also relates to another aspect of setting, in that Parts 1 and 3 are set in the more morally restricted Wisconsin countryside and Part 2 is set in the more morally open life of the city. Here again structure reflects circumstance, here again structure supports and helps to define the meaning of both circumstance and the actions that take place within those circumstances. Perhaps most notably, in this instance structure can be seen as reflecting most particularly the inner life of Catherine, her true, passionate, and indulgent identity, as manifest in Part 2, buried within explorations of her Wisconsin-defined morality in Parts 1 and 3.

This section contains 1,283 words
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