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A Reliable Wife
by Goolrick, Robert
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1. The novel's setting and strong sense of place seem to echo its mood and themes. What role does the wintry Wisconsin landscape play? And the very different, opulent setting of St. Louis?

2. Ralph's and Catherine's story frequently pauses to give brief, frequently horrific glimpses into the lives of others. Ralph remarks on the violence that surrounds them in Wisconsin, saying, They hate their lives. They start to hate each other. They lose their minds, wanting things they can't have. How do these vignettes of madness and violence contribute to the novel's themes?

3. Catherine imagines herself as an actress playing a series of roles, the one of Ralph's wife being the starring role of a lifetime. Where in the novel might you see a glimpse of the real Catherine Land? Do you feel like you ever get to know this woman, or is she always hidden behind a façade?

4. The encounter between Catherine and her sister Alice is one of the pivotal moments of the novel. How do you view these two women after reading the story of their origins? Why do the two sisters wind up on such different paths? Why does Catherine ultimately lose hope in Alice's redemption?

5. You can live with hopelessness for only so long before you are, in fact, hopeless, reflects Ralph. Which characters here are truly hopeless. Alice? Antonio? Ralph himself? Do you see any glimmers of hope in the story?

6. Why, in your opinion, does Ralph allow himself to be gradually poisoned, even after he's aware of what's happening to him? What does this decision say about his character?

7. Did you have sympathy for any of the characters? Did this change as time went on?

Additional discussion questions from: Reading Group Guides
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