Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Completed: The Widow's War


To no one's surprise, I'm a bit stalled out on Postwar. I did listen to the first 7 or 8 hours of the audiobook, which took me up to Chapter 6. It's actually stunning to realize just how long it takes to read things out loud! But now that the commuting to Evanston has stopped, so has my audiobook listening. I certainly intend to read the back 2/3 of the book, but it won't be all that fast.

In a moment of panic, then, I thought maybe I ought to start reading some novels. I have two more weeks before I start back to work, and the fall quarter at Northwestern doesn't start until September 23rd.  There's no reason I can't knock out a couple of TBR books before then!

My Mom actually gave me this book, The Widow's War by Sally Gunning. Here's the weird part, she was telling me about it, and I was saying, "I feel like maybe I've already read that book, Mom." But it turns out that I had read the sequel, Bound. 

Both of Sally Gunning's novels are set in a small whaling town in Massachusetts (a state I still need help spelling, by the way) in the 1760s. In both novels, she uses her characters to explore the state of women in pre-Revolutionary society. The Widow's War begins when 39 year old Lyddie is told that her husband has drowned off of his whaling ship. Her husband's will is standard for the time, leaving her the "standard widow's third" which means their property goes to her nearest male relative (her despised son-in-law) who is charged with taking care of her financially. He can either sell or rent the house, leaving her with either a third of the property to use or a third of the interest of the sale, along with any personal belongings she brought into the marriage.

The story is the one of Lyddie's life in that first year after her husband's death. She decides to strike out on her own and live in 1/3 of the house rather than live with her daughter and son-in-law.  The story tells of her struggles to support herself, of how the town gossips about her and ostracizes her for her choices, etc.

It's a good book and a fast read. The thing that was weird about it (for me) is that I had read the sequel and so I sort of knew how things would turn out for her, so it did take some of the drama out of the "will she make it on her own" plot line. I liked this one better than it's sequel, which explores the harrowing life of an indentured servant. I think the question I always have in historical fiction is the question of accuracy: how likely was it that a 1760s woman would fight for property rights and her wish to live on her own? She knows how to take care of herself because her husband was gone for months at a time on whaling expeditions, but I'm still left wondering about her mindset. I'm absolutely sure that Sally Gunning did an amazing amount of research, and the book is full of fascinating details....but....I'm still left wondering.

Either way, I enjoyed it. And I definitely enjoyed knocking another book off my list.


  1. So funny that you read the sequel and then the first one... when you read the sequel, did you know that it was *a* sequel? Just wondering if you felt/noticed that at all at the time.

    Re: How likely it was for there to be a woman who went against the crowd or what was "expected of her" in the 1760s... maybe just as much as there is now? I don't know... I feel like it's easy to stereotype a "group" of people in a certain time period but then, just as now, there were going to be some people who were doing things differently, right? And independent woman having independent thoughts... not that it was encouraged/welcomed by society but... I'd like to think it was happening!

    And Re: The TBR pile... OMG, Jenny. What has *happened* to me this year?! I am reading... just not TBR books! I have actually just gone ahead and done the math for the rest of the year (already! In August!) and it's 20 pages a day for me if I want to get this thing done. I have two books that I have completed and not written up, but that still leaves... EIGHT to go!

    This is gonna be a bumpy ride. (Funnily enough, I am actually on a bumpy ride right now -- on a plane. I love Wi-Fly!)

  2. Maybe sequel isn't exactly the right word. The second book takes place in the same village, and maybe 10 years or so after this one? The main character in this book becomes a secondary but important character in the sequel.

    It was definitely weird, but they are stand-alone books. It wouldn't be like trying to read The Deathly Hallows as your first Harry Potter book ;-)