Title: The Island of Doves
Author: Kelly O’Connor McNees
No. of Pages: 384
Genre: Historical Fiction
Origins: Berkley Books
Release Date: 1 April 2014
Bottom Line: Well-written but predictable
“Susannah Fraser lives in one of Buffalo’s finest mansions, but her husband has made it a monstrous prison. When a mysterious woman offers to help her escape, Susannah boards a steamboat for Mackinac Island. But after being a dutiful daughter and obedient wife, it is only as she flees that she realizes how unprepared she is for freedom.
An exceptional woman of early America, Magdelaine Fonteneau has overcome convention to live a bold and adventurous life, achieving great wealth and power as a fur trader. But Magdelaine has also seen great tragedy and lost all that was dear to her, and she is no longer sure her hardened heart is capable of love.
Now, Magdelaine seeks redemption by offering safe harbor to Susannah. But as their friendship grows into something miraculous, it changes each woman in unexpected ways. Each needs to learn to love again, and only together can they realize a future bright with the promise of new life…”
Thoughts: The Island of Doves suffers heavily from predictability. While one should never trivialize spousal abuse or a woman’s flight from an abusive husband, it appears as if all such stories follow certain patterns. The wife fakes her own death and flees, with or without the help of others. The husband cannot believe his wife would leave him until one simple mistake confirms his suspicions. Just when the wife begins to feel herself safe, there is one final confrontation between husband and wife except this time, the wife shows her new-found strength to defeat her husband’s hold. Thus begins her happily ever after. It is not a bad story, but it is a cliched one. Unfortunately, Ms. O’Connor McNees follows this same story pattern without much deviation, creating an enjoyable story that has absolutely no surprises.
The strengths of The Island of Doves lies not in its story, for reasons previously stated, but rather in its characters and even more in its descriptions. Both Susannah and Magdelaine are extremely strong characters. Magdelaine has the fortitude to thrive in the rough world of fur trading, creating a fortune in spite of her status as a widowed single mother. She fully supports women’s rights when women did not have any and uses all of her power and influence to helping young girls become self-sufficient. Susannah too is highly educated. Her fascination with plant life serves her well, as it showcases a scientific mind that is capable of recognizing the dangers of staying with her husband. She may appear frail and weak, but she really does have a backbone of steel when pushed. They are both admirable women, not just for the time period, but for women in general.
The descriptions within The Island of Doves are absolutely exquisite. Mackinac Island is renowned for its beauty, and Ms. O’Connor McNees brings it to life with an attention to detail that rivals a naturalist’s pen. One can hear the water lapping on Magdelaine’s canoe and feel the breeze as it ruffles the leaves of the maple trees. Her skill does not just reside in natural descriptions. Susannah’s domestic life is just as well-defined, from the feel of the various fabrics Susannah wears to the scents of the docks to her nervous tension as she seeks to anticipate her husband’s desires. In a novel where the plot itself is ordinary, the creation of the background is pure delight.
There is nothing overtly wrong with The Island of Doves. The story is entertaining and heartfelt. Susannah and Magdelaine are impressive characters, each simultaneously strong and yet fragile for various reasons. The descriptions of Susannah’s life in Buffalo and especially on Mackinac Island are vibrant and exquisite in detail. Yet, it is missing that spark that would make the story truly memorable. The Island of Doves is ultimately a disappointing read, especially because one recognizes Ms. O’Connor McNees’ writing ability and wishes the story would follow suit.