Kelly O’Connor McNees weaves a delightful tale about post-Civil War mail order brides in her sweet novel, In Need of a Good Wife. The book rotates between its three prime characters. Clara’s rakish husband abandoned her for another girl after a tragedy. Rowena is a vain but broke, widowed war bride. And Elsa is a devout, older woman of faith who works as a laundress. Each woman dreams of leaving the tired and crowded city of New York to start afresh on the new western frontier– Clara to escape her grief and settle alone, Rowena to remarry a wealthy man, and Elsa with nothing to lose.
With an entrepreneur’s spirit, Clara organizes correspondences between the lonely bachelors of Destination, Nebraska, and the handful of ladies hoping to leave New York, orchestrating suitable matches for each, and planning to keep a profit for her services. However, when the group finally sets off to meet their grooms-to-be, all goes awry, and poor Clara is left with the blame and an impossible sum to repay.
This book makes an extremely pleasant read and is very well-written, especially in remaining authentic to the era. I could not put it down until I’d finished. I like McNees’s subtlety in leaving a few open ends and allowing the reader to imagine what becomes of Clara, Rowena, and Elsa, and their respective romantic prospects by the end of the novel. This is a delightful piece of character-driven historical fiction for women.
“Earthly things will pass away. They will pass away and what will be left is my Savior.” (page 233)
“And as if suffering ever taught anybody a thing except to thank God when it ended.” (page 274)
“Don’t do that to yourself, Spatzchen, Elsa thought. The world is full of Rowenas, women who could cut you to the quick with their cruel appraisals of what they think you are. You have to know your own sacredness in order to endure them. You have to know that you have been created for a reason that has everything to do with what is good and what is righteous. And no one can ever take that away from you.” (page 321)