Published by: Berkley Trade
Published on: October 2, 2012
Page Count: 400
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Reading Format: Review copy sent to me for consideration by the publisher
Available Formats: Paperback, eBook, and Audiobook
Special Note: Come back here on Wednesday, October 10th for a Q & A with author Kelly O’Connor McNees.
Clara Bixby is in a spot of bother. Her husband has left her after the death of their newborn son. She’s making ends meet by working in a bar. She wants more from her life, but Manhattan after the end of the Civil War doesn’t offer single women without the support of fathers or husbands many opportunities. The day that she is let go from the bar, she learns about a Nebraska town that is almost entirely devoid of women. This sparks an idea that changes her life. Working with the Mayor of Destination, Nebraska, she advertises in Manhattan for mail-order brides for the lonely men in Nebraska. Many women are interested to build a new life out West, but not all are well suited for the change. Elsa, a spinster German immigrant, also wants more out of her life. She’s spent the whole of her adulthood doing another woman’s laundry. Unless she makes a drastic change, she will die while doing the laundry. Rowena is unlike the other woman interested in Clara’s proposition. She came from a wealthy family and married a good man. Unfortunately, her husband died in the Civil War and her father has gone insane, but not before losing his fortune. She can no longer avoid her friends finding out about her dire circumstances and she longs for an escape. Clara’s goal is not to find another husband, but to make enough profit from her venture to purchase the home of her dreams. Things do not, however, go according to plan.
I was immediately taken with the pioneering spirit of Clara and her mail order brides. As someone who has moved over 700 miles from her family, I can’t imagine setting off on such a journey without the modern convenience of phone calls and email. I knew these women would have to be strong to take that risk regardless of any desperate situations. As this novel illustrated, desperation alone is not enough to pack up your life and head out into the unknown. I also loved Clara’s entrepreneurial spirit. With no prior experience, she dove into an extravagant business venture. She didn’t care what others thought of her. She developed a vision and worked it to its completion. She made mistakes along the way, but she always owned up to them. She followed through and, as a result, created a destiny not only for herself, but for those who followed her.
While there were stories that ended as I had hoped, In Need of a Good Wife was not at all formulaic Kelly O’Connor McNees brought post-Civil War America to life in this novel. The country was in an upheaval following the war and the journey from Manhattan to Nebraska by train provided a glimpse of how its impact from East to West. The characters were also interesting and not at all as they seemed. Clara was so much stronger than she herself thought. Rowena made me laugh when I first met her, but she was a troubled soul much less able to handle hardship than she’d like the world to see. Elsa was a gem. If picking yourself up by your bootstraps and making your own way in life is a stereotype of Americans, its because of immigrants like Elsa. She was my favorite character.
In Need of a Good Wife was such a pleasant read. It was full of adventure, promise, hope, betrayal, and fighting injustice. As much as I enjoyed McNees’ first novel, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, I loved this book even more. I selected it for the pioneering spirit I picked up from the description and devoured it because of it’s sense of adventure and the well-rounded and diverse characters Kelly O’Conner McNees brought to life. In Need of a Good Wife makes for an excellent fall read. You can cuddle up under the blankets while it’s blustery outside and let Clara and her brides capture your imagination.