Thursday, September 11, 2008

REVIEW: The Widow's War

Title: The Widow's War
Author: Sally Gunning
ISBN: 9780060791575
Protagonist: Lyddie Berry
Setting: Satucket Village on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, 1761
Historical Fiction
Rating: A-

First Line: Lyddie Berry heard the clatter of the geese and knew something was coming--Cousin Betsey, Grandson Nate, another wolf, or, knowing those fool birds, a good gust of wind--but when she heard the door snap hard against the clapboards she discounted all four of them; she whirled with the wind already in her skirts to see the Indian, Sam Cowett, just ducking beneath the lintel.

Fortysomething Lyddie Berry is no stranger to grief; she's buried four of her five children. But when her husband Edward drowns while whaling, she's not only thrust once more into the numbness of sorrow--she's tossed into a new life she wasn't expecting. Being married to a whaler had accustomed her to a life of being alone for long stretches of time. It had accustomed her to being self-reliant and to making her own decisions. But Edward's will merely gives Lyddie her traditional "widow's third"--one third use, but not ownership, of his estate. Lyddie is allowed only the things she brought with her to her marriage and is forced to live with her daughter, Mehitable, her grandchildren, and Mehitable's petty tyrant of a husband, Nathan Clarke. Clarke immediately decides to sell the Berry property, and Lyddie finds herself living in a small room in the Clarke house, trying to be a useful part of the family without antagonizing anyone, and begrudged the purchase of a pair of buckles for her shoes. Breaking completely from her family, Lyddie takes her belongings, moves back to her home, and decides to fight for her right to live how and where she wants. Along the way, she finds help from a lawyer, Ebeneezer Freeman, and her neighbor, the Indian, Sam Cowett.

Oh, Edward, she thought, how could you possess such knowledge of my flesh and so little of my spirit?

Gunning did a marvelous job of putting me in the eighteenth century Cape Cod setting. Never once did I feel hit over the head by her research. Almost any woman can identify with Lyddie's plight. I was certainly no exception. The only thing that annoyed me in this wonderful, page-turning book was Lyddie's indecision about the men in her life. Cast free from Edward and all she'd ever known, she just couldn't seem to make up her mind about any of them. In a way, it's understandable. She thought she knew Edward and had a huge shock delivered to her on a platter at his death. It's no wonder that she became suspicious and indecisive about male motives thereafter. I would've much preferred, however, that she hadn't led them on while she was trying to make up her mind.

I enjoyed
The Widow's War so much that I went searching for Gunning's other books. She's written another historical, Bound, in which Lyddie makes another appearance, and she's also written a contemporary mystery series set in New England. Ah, my wish list will never know an end!

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