Winter’s Reckoning is a beautifully crafted southern gothic story that portrays a startling similarity to contemporary events. While so much has changed since 1917, the setting of this book, so little has changed. Or perhaps change is just slower than we like to imagine.
Maddie is a socially progressive widow living in a small Appalachian community. She is an herbalist and midwife. She and her apprentice, Ren, along with her granddaughter, Hannah, fight the misogyny and racism that defines their dying town.
When Carl Howard, the new pastor, quickly learns and takes advantage of the town’s weaknesses, he intentionally exacerbates the problems in an attempt to gain power over the small population. He manipulates and incites the Ku Klux Klan to enforce an ugly status quo. He is a charlatan and a narcissist seeking to puff himself up to feel important. He is a short man on a large horse. Carl secretly ridicules the very people who bow to him. He even accuses Maddie of witchcraft in an effort to make her submit. She does not submit.
Maddie is a healer in a world where doctors are scarce. Her community depends on her for health care. Author Adele Holmes uses her background as a doctor to paint a believable picture. In fact, several scenes are detailed in a way that only someone with such knowledge could write. Holmes shows a respect for herbalism and natural healing, informed by her own medical knowledge. As an herbalist and a healer, Maddie is respected. That respect is seen by some as a form of power, a power not permitted to a woman. Her education and knowledge are a threat to some of the men around her, particularly Pastor Howard. Her ease moving between the white and black world and her friendship with Ren are also seen as a threat.
Maddie is a role model of a strong and independent woman of her time, but she also serves as a role model for those of us living today, as does Ren. Hannah learns from Maddie that, “If you play along with the rules when the rules are wrong, you lose a part of yourself in the process.” None of these women will lose themselves.
Adele Holmes tackles misogyny and racism head on, painting a microcosm of a society that still struggles today with the same issues. She weaves a strong story with lyrical writing. Her storytelling is stellar. She begins with a near comical scene of the deputy sheriff shooting himself in the foot. Carl Howard’s horse is a near mythical animal. Other characters, such as the man in the cave, round out the story. Winter’s Reckoning is rich with characters who are at once believable and mythical, staying true to classic southern literature. From the first paragraph I was hooked.