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.