When the Reckoning Comes by Latanya McQueen is not just another book about enslaved people. With the spirit of Get Out and the air of the cringey, contemporary, not-so-subtle racism, this book uses the power of memories and generational trauma to tell us a truly scary story.
When the Reckoning Comes is about Mira, a Black woman who returns to her hometown for a plantation wedding. That plantation, recreated as a playground to enact the quaint nostalgia of enslavement for the entertainment of white spectators, is the very location Mira was haunted so many years ago. As she returns, the calls from the spirits are stronger, and they have to tell their story after being silenced for so long.
On the surface, the novel seems to cram as many cliches into the story, but the parts come together in a way that works. The premise is interesting. Dead formerly enslaved people telling their stories through visions? A straight horror story, indeed.
I was very interested in how the When the Reckoning Comes illustrated quite literally the effects of Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS). PTSS shows up in the social effects that tore the town of Kipsen in two: making the white folks richer and the Black folks poorer. It shows up in the people like Mira’s mother, who believe distancing from Blackness in order to be in proximity to whiteness will make them superior. It shows up in Jesse’s arrest and presumption of guilt, just because he is Black.
As I was reading, I kept thinking about the power of sharing and witnessing. As this is a work of fiction, I kept thinking about how we can share the stories of those no longer here to speak on their experiences (without the intense visions). I loved what Jesse was doing with his history research and photo series project.
I will admit, I wanted more gore from this story, but then I realized that the story wasn’t about revenge. Again, the whole point was about witnessing, forcing the descendants of enslavers to see what was the cost of their inherited wealth. They might not have owned other people, but they directly benefited from the bodies of enslaved people.
Witnessing is so powerful. As a country, we don’t talk about the trauma that is slavery nearly enough. When the Reckoning Comes is a testament to that. We have to address and acknowledge the past in order to truly heal and move forward. You can’t begin to make reparations for something if you still don’t acknowledge the depth of harm caused.