Widow 1881

Written by Sara Dahmen
Review by Janice Ottersberg

In 1881, Jane Weber answers an ad in the Boston Daily for a housekeeper in the Dakota Territory. She is a recent widow, and for reasons revealed later, she wants to start a new life far from her family and circle of friends in Boston. This job situation with a doctor seems just the answer. A nine-day train trip brings her to the small western town of Flats Junction. Doctor Kinney is young and handsome, and tongues would wag if the young widow lived at the doctor’s house as his housekeeper. Arrangements are made for her to board with Widow Hawk, a friend of the doctor and the town’s outcast. Widow Hawk is a Sioux woman who they do not want to live in their midst, believing she belongs on the reservation. Jane is frightened to live with her since she grew up perceiving Indians as savages. She quickly discovers the error of her prejudices and who the Widow really is: a kind, generous, and lonely woman.

The book begins with the employment ads Jane has circled, along with letters and telegrams arranging her hire. This felt authentic and pulled me in immediately. When Jane arrives at Flats Junction, the reader meets the characters of the town and their interactions are enjoyable. The story starts strong about a woman seeking independence in the West, away from the confines of Eastern society. But as the first-person narrative unfolds, Jane becomes more emotionally dependent, and we live too much inside her head with her repetitive angst over whether the doctor loves her or not. The last part of the book drags along that vein and should have wrapped up 100 pages earlier than it did. The first part was a good read, but the second part was a disappointment.