Small Reckonings (SPP Reprise)

18 July 2023

Small Reckonings
by Karin Melberg Schwier
Published by Shadowpaw Press Reprise
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$24.99 ISBN 9781989398746

Sometimes a book is so phenomenal it goes into multiple printings, either with the original publisher or with a fresh publisher. Such is the case with Saskatoon author Karin Melberg Schwier’s Small Reckonings, a Watrous, SK-based novel set between 1914 and 1936, and inspired by true events. I reviewed this book—for which the writer received a John V. Hicks Long Manuscript Award for Fiction—when it was first published by Burton House Books in 2020. A revised edition came out in 2021 with Copestone, and that same year it earned a Saskatchewan Book Award. This year, Shadowpaw Press Reprise has released the third edition. This story’s got staying power.

I stand by what I claimed in my initial review: Small Reckonings deserves a huge audience. Kudos to the multi-genre writer, and to Regina publisher (and writer) Edward Willett for recognizing that many well-written books deserve another chance to shine. Excerpts of my earlier review of this beautifully-crafted and highly enjoyable novel also get a reprise:

Melberg Schwier expertly creates individuated characters readers will care deeply about, including the central figure, Violet, who, at birth, looks like “a large pink spider,” and of whom the attending doctor says “‘There are places for these children.’” Equally well-drawn are Violet’s doting brother, John; kind neighbour, Hank; and the Ukrainian Yuzik family. The characters struggle through the Depression, and with the disparate lots they’ve been dealt.

I know Watrous well, thus it was especially fun reading the descriptions of this “boomtown”. Homesteader William boasts that “‘Watrous has wooden sidewalks now, and shops and a bakery. A very decent butcher. A poolroom and barbershop.’” He says the mineral springs possess “‘healing powers, so say the Indians’”. I can smell the “sweet scent of [Scandanavian] rosettes just pulled from hot oil,” and hear the “‘Uff da’” exclamations. I easily see the “green apron with yellow rickrack,” and almost sneeze at the description of the schoolboy “banging erasers at arm’s length on the bottom step, a cloud of chalk dust drifting away lazily in the afternoon heat”. I transported as I read about caragana seed pods “snapping and cracking” in the sunshine, and as the lead siblings spoke of “anti-I-over” and “Simon Says”. The “forlorn autumn sound” of honking geese was like an echo.

This book succeeds because the writer’s learned the difficult 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 or can easily imagine. Here’s Hanusia, the raw Ukrainian midwife, upon the birth of John: “‘So quick first baby! Much hair. Strong boy, good for farm work. Your husband, he will be happy.’”) And the plot? Movie potential.

I read with pleasure that Melberg Schwier has a sequel in the works. I have high expectations for Inheriting Violet. Watch for news of its release at


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