In Need of a Good Wife

Written by Kelly O'Connor McNees
Review by Nanette Donohue

Clara Bixby’s marriage is in ruins. Her husband left her after she had a miscarriage, leaving Clara to grieve and to fend for herself. When Clara overhears a conversation about the lawlessness of a town called Destination, Nebraska, at the tavern where she works, she formulates a plan to bring a civilizing influence to the struggling frontier town. She will reinvent herself as a marriage broker, working with the mayor of Destination to match the bachelors of his town with the single women of New York. Her idea causes a sensation, and she is soon preparing to send her first group of mail-order brides to the rural outpost. McNees’ second novel follows the intense challenges that three of these women face as they make their journey and settle into their new lives.

Clara’s husband reappears, reminding her why she fell in love with him. Elsa, a lifelong servant who has lost all hope of marriage, develops tender feelings for her employer, a seemingly-harsh widower, and fears that her feelings will never be reciprocated. Rowena, a vain young woman whose husband died in the Civil War, finds herself matched with a kind young man with children who have nearly gone feral from lack of supervision – a difficult situation for a coddled society girl to find herself in.

None of the characters are perfect. Though Rowena is cast as the villainess of the story, McNees ensures that readers understand the circumstances that cause her to act the way she does, and though Clara is the heroine, she’s far from flawless. It’s this nuance that makes In Need of a Good Wife stand out. These women struggle with their experiences and their relationships, and they have good moments and bad—and it makes them authentic.