Lyddie Berry has long been the wife of Edward Berry, a well-liked and successful whaler in Satucket Village, Massachusetts. Married for twenty years, Lyddie is used to the trials of being a whaling wife - her husband's sudden departures, when whales are sighted in the bay; his long absences at sea, when she must run the house herself; the constant fear that Edward will simply not come home. But when the unthinkable does happen and Edward is lost at sea, Lyddie finds that she must bear not only the grief of losing her husband but also the insult of losing her autonomy. As a widow, she finds herself cast into society's cellar, her property and rights now at the whim of her nearest male relative, who happens to be her daughter's husband.
With her son-in-law implacable and hostile, Lyddie realized she cannot live under his roof and under his decrees. Refusing to bow to both her "guardian" and the societal and legal pressures brought to bear upon her, Lyddie finds that defying one rule emboldens her to defy another . . . and another. As she moves back into the house she shared with Edward - the house she is entitled to use only one-third of now - and begins to figure out how she'll make a living on her own, she finds that her defiance earns her nothing but the abuse of friends and neighbors and puts her home and her family at risk. Ultimately, Lyddie must decide how much she values her personal freedom and how willing she is to become estranged from those she loves.
While conjuring the hearths and salt air of eighteenth-century colonial America, The Widow's War captures a timeless human longing. With rich, realistic characters, Sally Gunning weaves a tale of a woman's journey to understand herself and her world, and her place in that world. Honest and moving, The Widow's War is a stunning work of literary magic, a spellbinding tale from an assured and gifted writer.
Reviews for Widow's War
"Skillfully employing the language, imagination and character that literary fiction demands, [Gunning] illuminates a fascinating moment in our past: the years just prior to the War of Independence, when ideas of rebellion — for men and women — were fomenting . . . Many historical novels die on the page, the characters never having drawn breath. In Gunning's capable hands, a novel of history is allowed to be as vivid as the smell of a man: "Tobacco and sweat, but a different sweat, and something like sassafras but not sassafras."
— Washington Book World
"Gunning's storytelling captures the paradox at the heart of colonial women's lives: managing a household, indeed survival itself, required ability and toughness, yet . . . Lyddie is not a one-dimensional heroine; in private, she wrestles with loneliness, anxiety, sexual desire, the fatigue of struggling by herself . . . Gunning's vibrant portrayal of Lyddie's journey shows that the pursuit of happiness is not for the faint of heart."
— Boston Globe
"This is historical fiction at its best; highly recommended."
— Library Journal (starred review)
"Gripping, romantic, historically sound, and completely satisfying, THE WIDOW'S WAR is a standout. I'll be surprised if I read a better historical novel this year."
— Historical Novels Review "Editor's Choice"