Blurb: It’s funny how things sneak up on you…
Kate Willoughby is a champion for throwaways—discarded dogs and cats, abandoned horses bound for slaughter, and all creatures great and small. But now it’s Kate who’s alone in a hostile world like a dog dumped by the side of a road. Is there a champion for Kate?
After 22 years of marriage, Kate loves her husband, Brian, with an even greater passion than when she spoke her vows. “My world spins on his axis,” she often says. But when Kate finds a love letter to Brian from Micky, she’s torn between proving Brian’s innocence and nailing him to the wall with his guilt.
Throughout her marriage, Kate has been trusting and trustworthy —to a fault, friends have said. Now, she steals into Brian’s emails and accesses his credit card accounts, phone records, bank statements, friends and activities, discovering the metaphoric iceberg beneath Brian’s affair.
Turning to the one constant in her life, Kate is guided by her family of animals: shelter dog Molly; Premarin horse Quinn; packrat Winston; owls Albert & Victoria; Stubby, the chipmunk; rattlesnake Cassandra; and Phineas, the determined grosbeak. These wise and wonderful teachers, along with a wild menagerie on her Arizona ranch, deliver lessons on life, love, and letting go. But it’s Molly, in a heartbreaking act of courage, who leads Kate back to her true self, before she became lost in love with Brian.
Shining a light on the childhood events and adult choices that, like steppingstones, brought her to this moment, Kate illuminates a familiar and well-worn path. Narrating her story with equal doses of heartache and humor, Kate comes to understand that nothing sneaks up on you that isn’t already here. Learning from Phineas, the determined grosbeak, Kate realizes that even after a devastating injury, you can soar again.
“Love you, Kate.”
My heart swells, spilling a tear. “Love you more.”
This is a ritual of 22 years. “Love you more.” Imagine writing the words into a card that you’ll slip into the side pocket of your husband’s case and then making the unsavory discovery that there’s a chance he loves someone else more. Interwoven with beautifully written passages of Kate René MacKenzie’s observations of the natural world are the equally haunting passages of a woman who discovers that her husband has been perpetrating lies and mistrust. That the man she thought she knew may not have truly existed.
It is painful to read about a woman’s world unraveling, her coming to painful truths about a relationship she had put so much trust and reverence in but MacKenzie writes so well that the reader is hooked. She tells the story of her childhood in a dysfunctional family but how that reality did not eclipse her dreams. Her connection to the natural world around her that drew her to Alaska and then how she came to be on a ranch in Arizona, discovering another natural world.
Somehow considering its genre of women’s fiction–probably due MacKenzie’s storytelling talent–A School of Daughters is a page-turner, especially when MacKenzie accepts that her marriage is ending, that she has been played the fool by this dishonest, philandering man, and that her once naïve trust doesn’t mean that she has to stay a fool. And, yes, the reader is very much hoping that Brian Willoughby will get his comeuppance.
Throughout A School of Daughters, MacKenzie weighs the good things that Willoughby did, wondering how he could have put up with dog hair in his fancy car or how he could have cared for animals to the extent he did or even mow her mother’s grass. But, alas the world is not black and white. Peter Pan may never grow up. He may continue to pursue his youth and, perhaps, the youth of others. His self-absorbed nature may never wane. He will put his current youthful adventure at the center of his existence, betraying those who counted on him, loved him. If they are not part of his current interest, than what can they expect? Good and bad never come into play in self-involvement. The ego wants what the ego wants.
The daughter of missionaries, Kate’s mother spent part of her childhood in China where female infanticide occurred by the act of drowning the unwanted baby daughters. She coined the term “school of daughters.” How do you drown your newborn daughter? This raises a theme of valuing women but also of valuing life, all life whether it’s two-legged or four-legged. And, how we must live our lives: well and without regret.
In A School of Daughters Kate René MacKenzie shows that she is a writer of great emotion, seeing the poetry in all creatures and in the sunrise as well as the sunset, and that maybe what we metaphorically view as the sunset, the ending, the abandoning, can be, in itself, an opportunity.
I get through the rest of the day. I feed the horses, wash their faces, brush their coats, pick up poop, then walk Molly, fill the bird feeders, clean the litter box. In between, I hug an old teddy bear. Actually, it’s more than a hug. I cleave to my bear like a life preserver keeping me afloat against the waves of despair that threaten to drown me.
Sometimes I just stop what I’m doing, slump to the ground, and wail. It is the most awful, primitive sound and I can’t believe it’s pouring from me.
Molly comes to me, tail wagging, ears back, offering the comfort of her warm, soft tongue. I reassure her that it’s okay, that I’m okay, and I climb up from the ground and soldier on.
Then there are merciful respites where the pain still exists but I’m too drained to express it. But the best moments are when numbness takes over and I simply exist. It feels like the aftermath of a funeral, when the anguish of death has subsided and all that’s left are soft, graveside tears.
Brian and I have shared seven family funerals. Is Micky Brian’s attempt to postpone the inevitable? Does she make him feel young and new while I remind him of death?
We’ve also shared the birth of seven grandchildren. Does each new life add to his making him seem that much closer to the grave?
I want so much to understand why he is doing this. I want to forgive him. But what I want most is to pretend it all away.
Kate René MacKenzie is the women’s fiction alter ego of romance novelist and Golden Heart nominee Maggie McConnell (Spooning Daisy). Kate (and Maggie) spent her childhood overseas, the daughter of US diplomats. Attending college in Illinois, she volunteered at the local humane shelter, eventually becoming director. While earning a BA in Art and then an MBA, Kate worked at various jobs including go-go girl, bartender, and teaching assistant. At 26, she sold her 280Z and packed her dog and cat into a Ford truck and drove the Alcan Highway to Alaska where she spent 23 years exploring The Last Frontier in a single-engine Cessna. Her next adventure was in Arizona on a no-kill ranch at the end of the road. A vegan and animal rights advocate, Kate provides a sanctuary for all creatures great and small, but her immediate family includes horses Quinn and Hershey, and cat Noelle.