The dislike started early. I don't think I had gotten past the first page when I had thought, "Oh, geez, another author who thinks that, if you write in short sentences, you're Hemingway." (Example" The clock ticked. The hour struck. Everything moved again. The train was late.") These choppy sentences are interspersed with sentences that seem to be trying to hard for both style and depth. ("But, if you had been there and you had, in some unfathomable way, recorded the stillness, taken a negative of it as the glass plate receives he light, to be developed later, you would have known, when the thought, the recollection was finally developed, that this was the moment it began."--This monster of a sentence appears right before the four quoted above.)
Then there are the three despicable characters at the heart of the story--Ralph, the wealthy Wisconsin industrialist; Catherine, his mail-order bride; and Antonio, who may or may not be Ralph's son. Not only are all three unlikeable, they were for me totally unbelievable. All have sad back stories (Ralph's mother stabbed a needle into his hand and ground it against the bone to show him what hell was like--a place she fully expected him to end up from birth), a dysfunctional obsession with sex, and no idea how to have a real relationship with another human being. While Goolrick may intend to redeem two of the three through love and forgiveness at the end of the book, I simply didn't believe they were doing anything other than adopting new masks.
Finally, the author says he was inspired by a book of photographs and news clippings showing the dark side of the end of the nineteenth century among poor people in rural America. Yet, he does little more than allude to the stories of the poor people who die, go mad, or suffer terrible losses; they are simply sources of entertainment and surprise to Ralph and Catherine, who are wealthy and urban, respectively.
In the country, there was insanity. There were fires and burnings and murders and rapes, unthinkable cruelties, usually committed by people against people they knew. It was at least personal.