Friday, October 12, 2012

Review of Kelly O'Connor McNees' In Need of a Good Wife

By Kim

Synopsis (from the author’s website):

For Clara Bixby, brokering mail-order brides is a golden business opportunity—and a desperately needed chance to start again. If she can help New York women find husbands in a far-off Nebraska town, she can build an independent new life away from her own loss and grief.

Clara’s ambitions are shared by two other women, who are also willing to take any risk. Quiet immigrant Elsa hopes to escape her life of servitude and at last shape her own destiny. And Rowena, the willful, impoverished heiress, jumps at the chance to marry a humble stranger and repay a heartbreaking debt. All three struggle to find their true place in the world, leaving behind who they were in order to lay claim to the person they want to be. Along the way, each must face unexpected obstacles and dangerous choices, but they also help to forge a nation unlike any that came before.

About Kelly O’Connor McNees (from the author’s website):

Kelly O'Connor McNees is the author of two novels, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott and In Need of a Good Wife. Born and raised in Michigan, Kelly found that books made good friends. Mary Lennox, Winnie Foster, Kit Tyler, Will Stanton, and a dozen other characters were as real to her as any of the kids on her block, and she decided that the best way to keep them around and provide them with some company was to become a writer herself. Kelly received her first rejection letter in tenth grade, from the fiction editor at "Seventeen," and has been writing her way back ever since. In the meantime, she has worked as a teacher and editor, and lives with her husband and daughter in Chicago.


I picked up this novel on the advice of several writer friends, though even without the recommendations the cover and premise would have reeled me in on my next visit to a bookstore. I love stories about strong, daring women. The 19th century fascinates me. Combine these two elements and add in an unconventional love story (or three) and I'm certainly eager to read.

In Need of a Good Wife follows the story of three very different women: Clara, an abandoned wife who must scrimp and save in order to survive; Elsa, a Bavarian immigrant orphan who has lived a life of quiet, loveless servitude; and Rowena, a hot-tempered, widowed heiress who discovers she’s not nearly as rich as she had thought. All believe they have nothing to lose by venturing out to frontier Nebraska, and all are changed by the experience, though none in the way she had imagined.

A few reviewers found Rowena completely unlikable, but I believe she was a product of her upbringing, yet didn’t belong in the world into which she was born. I didn’t always like her behavior, but I did understand it and never lost my sympathy for her plight. This says a lot for McNees' skill as a storyteller.

The characters’ voices were real and distinct, and the fictional town of Destination was a nightmare from which I hoped not to awaken too soon.

This novel was an enjoyable escape into the past and a confirmation of the resilience of the human spirit.

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