Synopses & Reviews
It’s 1855, and the Dickinson farm, in the bottom corner of Virginia, is already in debt when a Northern abolitionist arrives and creates havoc among the slaves. Determined to find his mother and daughter, who are already free in Canada, Bry is the first slave to flee, and his escape inspires a dozen others. Soon, the farm, owned by one brother and managed by another, is forfeited to the bank.
One of the brothers, who is also a circuit-riding preacher, gathers his flock into a wagon train to find a new life in the west. But John Dickinson has a dangerous secret that compels him to abandon the group at the last minute, and his wife, two daughters, and thirteen-year-old son, Martin, now face life on the trail and an unknown future alone. After a fateful encounter along the way, Martin and Bry will hatch a plot to get Bry safely to Canada, but each member of the family will be changed, tormented, excited, and exposed by the journey.
Linda Spalding brings an astonishing empathy to the telling of the fate of each of the travelers and to their shifting inner lives — compounded of grief, fear, anger, and hope. Rich in character and incident, A Reckoning brilliantly-creates an America that was: the undefiled beauty of its lands and the grand mix of settlers and Native Americans; blacks and whites; riverboat captains, small businessmen, and people leaving one life behind for another they can only just begin to see. It moves with irresistible force toward an ending at once cataclysmic, inevitable, and profound.
"An engrossing, deftly crafted narrative...A Virginia family suffers poverty and sorrow as slavery tears their world apart...As the characters struggle to survive, they discover that redemption is elusive and forgiveness, hard-won." Kirkus Reviews
"What a brilliant and harrowing book! Everyone thinks they know the epic story of early nineteenth-century America, of the covered wagons and the way west; A Reckoning will persuade you that you don’t. For one thing, it is the story of families — for another, it was written over the politics of slavery. Riverboats, rutted forest roads, slave catchers, con men, sick mules, broken axles, lost children. There is something of Mark Twain in this telling and something of Willa Cather, a narrative as ingenious in its mix of points of view as Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and full of enough to keep anyone turning pages. And at the heart of it is the portrait of a remarkably strong woman and a painfully rich portrait of a marriage and a family." Robert Hass
"Spalding’s excellent fifth novel is a drama set in the late 1850’s as conflicts over slavery and abolition tear apart a Virginia plantation family...The family trek west is fraught with peril, hardship, disappointment, and injury, while slave catchers pursue runaways north....Rife with historical detail." Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Linda Spalding was born in Kansas and lived in Mexico and Hawaii before immigrating to Canada in 1982. She is the author of four critically acclaimed novels, The Purchase (awarded Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award), Daughters of Captain Cook, The Paper Wife, and (with her daughter Esta) Mere. Her nonfiction includes A Dark Place in the Jungle, Riska: Memories of a Dayak Girlhood, and Who Named the Knife. In 2003 Spalding received the Harbourfront Festival Prize for her contribution to the Canadian literary community. She lives in Toronto, where she is an editor at Brick magazine.