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—compoundedof 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.
“Spalding’s timely, historically sensitive sequel to The Purchase (2013), a literary saga which also confidently stands alone, explores the ramifications of slavery on the next generation of the Dickinson family. An abolitionist’s arrival on their southwestern Virginia farm in 1855 sparks the dissolution of their longtime way of life. Some enslaved men escape. Without their labor, the crops fail and money grows tight, fomenting conflict between circuit-riding preacher John and his cruel half-brother, Benjamin, who owns their land and slaves. The narrative then turns adventurous as it follows several people, including John’s wife, Lavina, 13-year-old son, Martin, and an escaped slave, Bry, as their journeys away from Jonesville unite and diverge. The characters are full-fledged individuals whose mind-sets reflect their time and place. John is enamored of their African American housekeeper and imagines she loves him in return, while Lavina is an intriguing mix of independence and feminine conformity. For John’s family, it’s also noteworthy that the unspoiled American landscape, spectacularly described in its glory and dangers, offers a spirituality and freedom absent from his controlling form of religion.” —Sarah Johnson, Booklist
“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
“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.”
“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.”
“A dark and mythopoetic novel . . . that stands apart for its texture, moral nuance, and the somber earthy prose.”
—The Globe and Mail
“A beautiful and brilliant work of art, vulnerable, driven, and unsettling. A humane and timely examination of how the societies we create—just or profoundly unjust—set the parameters for the people we become. Extraordinary.”