”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.”
Thoughts: After the Civil War, thousands of unmarried women were left to fend for themselves, thanks to a dearth of eligible men, in a society that still did not foster that type of independence. Enter Clara, a woman reeling from her own loss, who hits upon a way to help out a small town in Nebraska and earn her the independence she so desperately craves. Against all odds, she creates her band of brides-to-be who all have their own reasons for seeking a new life. Beset by unfortunate and unforeseen circumstances, the women must prove their mettle in an unforgiving land far away from everything that is familiar to them. Kelly O’Connor McNees’ second novel, In Need of a Good Wife explores the experiences of these courageous women who give up everything for the chance to find happiness and contentment.
On the surface, Clara’s brides are anything but similar. Elsa is the pragmatic, unsentimental one, fashioned through years of solitude and her life as an immigrant from Germany. Elsa is the character with whom readers will sympathize the most. Her patience and complacency are admirable and immediately create a connection with readers. Rowena is the romantic ingenue, trying to find the means to maintain her formerly decadent lifestyle without too much sacrifice. In other words, she is a snob and is not afraid to show it. Clara is the bitter one, trying to overcome her previous failings and running from her past. She has a prickly exterior but underneath is someone who is truly suffering from heartache. Together, they make up the crux of Bixby’s Belles, mail-order brides for a small frontier town hundreds of miles away from home.
As different as the women are, they all crave fresh beginnings, and that is the point. Clara is the first to recognize this and capitalizes upon this thought to the envy and ridicule of others. Everyone who settled the west was seeking something – land of one’s own, anonymity, money, happiness. Mail-order brides were no different. The story becomes truly fascinating as each bride and groom come to recognize the similarities in spite of their individual differences, while the ensuing struggles against any such recognition is what generates the tension and fuels the reader forward through the story.
Ms. O’Connor McNees has done it again. With her careful research and exquisite attention to detail, her characters, real and imaginary, leap from the page. In Need of a Good Wife is not only informative about the perils of frontier living, it is also a character study of the types of people who were driven west. It captures perfectly the fortitude of not only Miss Bixby’s Belles but all of the pioneers searching for a fresh start within the hard-scrabble life of the untamed west. With this second novel as well-written and entertaining as her debut novel, Ms. O’Connor McNees is proving to be a name to watch among historical fiction novelists!
Acknowledgments: Thank you to Lindsay Boggs from Penguin Group for my review copy!