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Robert Goolrick defeats childhood demons

Gool Robert Goolrick says the only thing he’s truly interested in writing about is “goodness.”

“I believe it is the only thing that counts, the only thing we have in our bank accounts and the only thing we will be remembered for,’’ says the author, who appears at Miami Book Fair International Tuesday night.

But don’t make the mistake of assuming his debut novel is populated by earnest, unselfish types all striving to behave nobly. Goolrick’s characters are treacherous, determined, shifty and burdened by the past.

The bestselling A Reliable Wife (Algonquin, $14.95 in paperback) is a dark, atmospheric novel set in the early 1900s about Ralph Truitt, a wealthy but deeply lonely man in a remote Wisconsin town every bit as frozen as his soul. (“Nothing says hell has to be fire . … Hell could be like this. It could be darker every minute. It could be cold enough to sear the skin from your bones.”)

Truitt advertises in a Chicago paper for “a reliable wife,” but his agenda is more complicated than mere companionship. Equally complex are the aspirations of Catherine Land, the mysterious woman who responds to his ad. She writes that she’s simple and honest – the first in the book’s labyrinth of lies – and her arrival sets up a dangerous conflict that includes Ralph’s estranged son.

These devious, fascinating characters are not even close to good. But that’s the point.

Click here to read the rest of my interview with Goolrick, who appears at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Miami Book Fair International. And check out Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run, at 6 p.m.

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