We are in Wisconsin in the very early 20th century. Ralph Truitt, a rich but lonely businessman with a haunted past, advertises for a wife a Chicago paper. Catherine reponds, and travels from Chicago to marry Ralph. But she is not what she seems. Slowly secrets, grudges and agendas are revealed.
To begin with I found this book hypnotic and smoky. The narration is poetic and slow, always turned towards the internal, private struggles of tortured minds. There is little dialogue and time seems disjointed, slow. There is a small cast and the tale is intriguing - Easy to follow, but devious and creepy. It begins as a page-turner, with secrets and twists revealed at just the right time.
But from about half-way through the book I started to find the tone grating and pretentious. Too many descriptions such as 'wanton nakedness', 'swarthy beards', and 'she was undone by grief'. There were too many glittering diamonds, oysters and champagne, dark silences and throbbing pulses.
Not only was the wording sometime embarrasingly trite, but the mental anguish of Ralph seemed utterly contrived. There was clumsy idea that he thought having sex with a woman might kill her which I still don't understand, and which was conveniently dropped as soon as he found a woman willing to 'do it' on a regular basis. The same goes for his obsession with his son, who is meant to be a broken man, the innocent product of abusive parents, but who instead comes across as spoilt and utterly unlikeable. The various characters reactions to events does not ring true, instead they are hugely out of proportion - More like the tantrums of drama queens than genuine, moving, human emotion.
But most tiresome of all was how everything - Literally everything - was centred around sex. Skin is on fire with passion on every page, bodices ripped and sheets soiled. Combined with the overbearing, flowery, emotional prose, it got boring very quickly.