cover image A Reckoning

A Reckoning

Linda Spalding. Pantheon, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4700-8

Spalding’s excellent fifth novel, after The Purchase, is a drama set in the late 1850s as conflicts over slavery and abolition tear apart a Virginia plantation family. The Dickinson farm is run by two half-brothers: Benjamin, a brutal slave owner, and John, a circuit-riding preacher who manages the farm, which is a financial failure. A stranger arrives claiming to be a bird-watching naturalist, but he is really an ardent Yankee abolitionist intent on convincing the Dickinson slaves to run away to freedom in Canada. Slaves escape, the bank takes the farm, and the family begins an arduous and painful wagon train journey to a hopeful new life in Kansas or Nebraska. John abandons his family to search for the sold enslaved girl he loves, further fracturing any relationship with his wife and children. The family’s trek west is fraught with peril, hardship, disappointment, and injury, while slave catchers pursue runaways north and abolitionists and pro-slavery border ruffians fight in Kansas and Missouri. Spalding’s novel is a grim tale of pre–Civil War tensions, economic despair, and family disintegration, rife with historical detail. [em](Mar.) [/em]