The Reckoning is a coming-of-age story, a western, and a portrayal of human spirit fighting against loss, greed and cruelty. It is the story of two people and a story of many people. The Reckoning combines all this with strong likable characters and beautiful depictions of life and place. This is a great tale that will entertain and move you.
The story begins in 1904, with cowboy Will Sherman finding his way through the bewildering streets of New York City. When he is held up at knifepoint, he startles his would-be assailant by fighting back. Will soon starts to feel sympathy for his attacker, Tom, when he hears about his difficult home life and alcoholic father. He has just lost his own son, Arthur, who was the same age as Tom at his death. So Will makes a deal with the judge. Tom escapes jail time and is instead sent back with Will to his Wyoming ranch.
Thus we begin our journey with Tom and Will. Tom is defiant at first and even tries to escape from the train, yet Will is gentle and determined to make something of the boy. Arriving at the ranch, Tom is bitter at first, especially when confronted with Ellen, Willís daughter, who resents Tom arriving so soon after her brother's death.
The story continues as we meet other characters from the ranch wholl become important in Tomís life:Mollie the cook;Lewis, the slow-itted boy who is the best wagon driver; Albert, the Native American who will teach Tom survival; and Caliban, the beautiful black stallion that threw Arthur to his death.
All is not well in Wyoming. The slums of New York City may be left behind, but trouble is brewing. Taggart, an ambitious and cruel man, is after Willís land and will do anything to get it.
The growth and development of Tom from selfish thief to a man who cares about others and finds peace within himself works wonderfully with the plains of Wyoming, horses and home fires burning in the background. The story could be about Tom or it could be about good people doing whatever they can to save a ranch they have come to love as home despite the danger they all feel. The fact that it's both takes this novel to another level. It has more emotion than most books, the characters jump off the page, and the laid-back manner of storytelling compliments the quiet, laid-back lifestyle of the world it describes.
As a first novel, this is exceptional. I expected to find a body of work featuring many novels behind this well-written and thought-provoking tale. In any case, McLain is no stranger to the written word. He is a veteran journalist national media consultant, former copywriter, magazine editor and news director. He has written various short stories and recently completed a screenplay based on The Reckoning, as well as a work of nonfiction.
The Reckoning tells a story first and foremost about people, and it does so exceptionally well. The characters are real, and you either like or loathe them depending which side they are on. McLain draws readers into the fold to make them feel a part of the ranch. The sense of us versus them, or good against evil, is very strong.
Will is instantly likeable, so ill-suited to the city that you feel for him, a cowboy in New York wanting to get back to the wide open spaces yet who cares enough about a boy society has neglected to give him a chance at life. One hopes that Tom will step up to the plate as the thought of Will being hurt or disappointed is too much to bear.
When Tom gets on the train with Will and leaves his squalid, unhappy past behind, you know that he will come good, that Will and the clear air of Wyoming will help him find himself. What you do not expect is how other people, apart from Will and the terrible circumstances surrounding the ranch, will all help heal Tomís old wounds and show him a life he can have.
Tom and Ellen clash immediately, yet they are both lost souls. Tom is used to being forgotten and unwanted, and Ellen is overwrought with guilt over her brother's riding accident. As their relationship grows, Tom helps Ellen as much as she helps him.
Almost as soon as Tom arrives at the ranch, you know he will not leave, so it is a surprise when he does run away. It is Albert, the Native American who finds him and brings him back, patient all the while, in his gentle manner showing Tom survival skills and something else: friendship and caring.
Even the characters with the smallest of roles play a part in Tom's development. The old drunk who hangs around the doorway of Pinkie's saloon is nothing but a novelty until Taggart's hired killer shoots his beloved dog. Tom feels such rage that it is obvious he has crossed a line. He is no longer a selfish thief but a young man capable of caring for another human being, capable of feeling empathy.
As Tom develops, things get tougher at the ranch. Taggart uses bully tactics and even violence to get Will to sell. People are murdered and terror fills the ranch. All except a few casual ranch hands are determined to stay and fight, Tom included.
The title of the book could refer to so many things. Of course, a reckoning comes for Tom against Taggart and Taggart's hired killers who cause Tom such heartache. The reckoning, too, is for Albert who must avenge the death of those he cares about.
Yet also does not Tom have a personal reckoning inside himself? Does he not come to terms with who he is and the man he can strive to be?
Then there is Ellen, who in desperation to help must ride the stallion that killed her brother - Caliban, now tamed through the goodness and patience of Tom. Her reckoning, too, will come with difficulty yet also a great relief that allows her to move on.
Whilst the word revenge comes to mind when thinking of the dramatic ending with the final confrontation between Taggart's men and those left to represent the ranch, it is not as simple as that. Whilset there must be some sense of vengeance for the wrongs done, it really comes down to kill or be killed. Violence is not glamorized but displayed as a necessary evil.
The Reckoning is a passionate, deeply human story told with immediacy in its description. You can smell the Wyoming air and home cooking, taste the fish that Tom and Albert catch, and feel the fear as Taggart and his men show such open hostility and brutality. It is recommended highly to anyone who loves a good western, a great coming of age story, or simply a good story with spirited characters told with great heart.