Small Reckonings

By Karin Melberg Schwier

John V. Hicks Long Manuscript Award, 2019

City of Saskatoon/Saskatoon Public Library Saskatoon Award, 2021 Saskatchewan Book Awards

Glengarry Book Award Jury Short List, Recognition of Literary Excellence, 2021

In the early 20th century, as homesteaders in Saskatchewan are scratching out hard new lives on the Canadian prairie, William, an adventurer from New Zealand, brings his new bride, Louise, to the freshly broken earth of his farm near Watrous.

Physical and emotional isolation take their toll on everyone struggling to survive in the harsh landscape, and when William and Louise’s second child, Violet, is born “feebleminded,” it plunges Louise—a woman burdened with a dark secret—back into a time of shame and regret, even as the child draws out goodness and loyalty from her neighbours, Hank and Emily.

Then tragedy upends the family, and William, while struggling to raise and protect his daughter and find his way to forgiveness, must come to terms with the fact that no one is infallible.

“Characters in this Watrous, SK-based historical novel-set between 1914 and 1936-are exquisitely and sympathetically drawn, the plot moves, and the portrait of this small town and its multi-ethnic pioneers rings true and clears as windchimes in a prairie breeze . . . This story succeeds so well because the writer’s learned the tricky art of literary balance. As skilled as she is at penning descriptive scenes, they never slow the pacing of this taut novel. The book’s structure is nuanced, and seemingly minor details–like a fishhook caught in an eye–have resonance. The characters are people we know . . .” – 
Shelley Leedahl

” . . . intricately told historical novel (with) modern connotations broaching our current conversation around trauma, consent, and sexual assault . . . Scenes linger, resonate in the mind.” – 
Hicks Judges Elisabeth de Mariaffi and Rabindranath Maharaj

” . . . an excellently-rendered story to be treasured for its intense understanding of human plight and pluck, tenderness and trauma.” – 
Saskatchewan Book Awards

“With beautiful writing that will resonate with readers who know these prairie skies, but also with readers who long to explore this country of ours, this nuanced and powerful book is a stunning exploration of love, disability, family, and loss.”
Alice Kuipers

Small Reckonings is a graceful, poignant debut novel, with the strong character of Violet at its heart. Considered vulnerable by her community, she turns out to be feisty and courageous. Her story, and that of her family, unfolds against the sweep of prairie with compelling power. Karin Melberg Schwier has given us a novel to treasure.” 
Anne Simpson






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