Monday, November 19, 2007

The Widow's War, by Sally Gunning--a review

Looking for local color during my summer vacation in Cape Cod, I went to the bookstore and picked up The Widow's War: A Novel, by Sally Gunning, which was recommended by the woman behind the counter there.

The Widow’s War is a historical novel that takes place in the very village in Cape Cod where my family stays, what used to be called Satucket, but is now Brewster. It is the story of Lyddie Berry, who is widowed when her beloved husband Edward, a whaler, drowns in Cape Cod Bay. The year is 1761, and then, in colonial New England, widows typically got their “thirds”, a third of their husband’s estate, until they remarried or died, with the rest of the estate going to the male heir. Lyddie, unhappy living with her daughter and overbearing son-in-law, challenges both the law and the customs of the time when she fights for her freedom and a house of her own.

The story is written in clean, clear prose and Gunning creates a strong and appealing main character in Lyddie Berry. I found myself truly curious about Lyddie’s fate, so I read later into the night than usual to find out what happened to her.

I read this right after finishing Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, so it was interesting to read about Lyddie’s neighbor, the Indian Sam Cowett, and his relationship to both Lyddie and the English community. Based on what I learned in Mayflower, it seemed realistic that almost one hundred years later, Gunning shows that some Indians lived separate from, but on the fringes of, the white community, and some had taken on the Christian religion, but all, whether living among or apart from the English, were considered “other” and regarded with suspicion.

Overall, I felt this was a well-researched book, and I found it both entertaining and informative.

As a bonus for me, a visitor to the area in Cape Cod where the book is set, the author gives a “tour” of the places in the novel, relating them to present-day landmarks. It was wonderful for me, since I had just been there and could picture just what Gunning wrote about. She also describes the architecture, so you get a sense of how the people lived, and again, if you’re a visitor to the area, you can see real examples of these “Cape Cod” houses that still exist. If my family returns to the spot, I’ll be sure to explore the area with the help of Gunning’s road map.


Anonymous said...

This sounds delightful! I shall have to look the author up and see if I can get hold of it in the UK. I love books about the Cape Cod area. Years ago I read Elinor Lipman's novel, Isabel's Bed and loved it - it gave me such a yearning to visit that part of the world (and I've yet to make it there!).

jenclair said...

Two in a row! You are having such good luck in your reading. Like litlove, I long to visit the Cape Cod area one day.

maggie moran said...

Oh, what a wonderful bookseller! She sounds like she has great taste. Happy T-day! Gobble, Gobble! :D

Tara said...

I'm so glad to see your positive review of this! I found a copy at ( not sure why they had such a newish release) and bought it based on your previous mention of it.

Gentle Reader said...

litlove--I've never read Isabel's Bed, but I'll have to check it out. And I hope you get to Cape Cod some day--it's beautiful!

jenclair--Cape Cod is a great place, I hope you get to visit it some day!

maggie--I wrote a post on the bookstore, because I love finding new bookstores when I'm on vacation. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!

tara--I hope you enjoy it. The author did a good job of evoking the time period, though the heroine sometimes sounded a bit modern. However, I didn't hold that against her--it was a good historical read.

Anonymous said...

Another one to add to my TBR list. This sounds really good. One of these days I will go to Cape Cod! It just sounds like such a beautiful place.

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