December 28, 2012

Book Review: In Need of a Good Wife


Kelly O'Connor McNees's In Need of a Good Wife is a fictional look at the 19th-century phenomenon of mail-order brides in frontier America. It starts with Clara Bixby, abandoned by her husband, out of a job and stuck in a boarding house full of unpleasant memories. Then she hears about Destination, Nebraska, a town with no women, and decides it's a perfect place to start over. She's not looking for romance, but she's willing to act as a marriage broker and shepherd a group of mail-order brides to Destination.

The mayor eagerly accepts her offer, and Clara and her group of brides set out on the long trip. Among the women is Elsa, an immigrant and devout Christian who has spent her life working backbreaking hours in a laundry and longs for an opportunity to have her own space and cook the German recipes of her childhood. Another is Rowena, who was a leading figure in New York society until her husband was killed in the Civil War; now she is penniless. Filled with anger at her father's mental illness and her husband's death, Rowena sees Nebraska as her only chance to escape.

McNees (The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott) shifts perspective between these three women (as well as some of Destination's men). Her characters aren't necessarily likable, but they are realistic, and the dilemmas that Rowena, Elsa and Clara face are compelling. Destination may not be the end of the line for this trio, but they will discover surprising things about themselves and each other in their journey to happiness.

In Need of a Good Wife was a little odd for me, because it was almost like Christian fiction... but then there were a few swear words, and a little adultery... which usually doesn't happen in Christian fiction. It was nothing terrible, but just a little strange when juxtaposed with a few of the Bible-quoting minor characters. I couldn't decide if it was supposed to be edgy Christian fiction, or just slightly Christian regular fiction?

Rating: 3 out of 5
Should I recommend this to my grandma? Maybe...?

Have you read any good mail-order bride stories?

The main part of this review was originally published in Shelf Awareness for Readers.