Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Hell and High Water - a review

Hell and High Water
by Tanya Landman
Candlewick Press, 2017

Many, many years ago, I was a waitress working the graveyard shift at a diner.  When the annual change to Standard Time came rolling around, I thought nothing of it–until I went to work that night.  Standard Time means an extra hour of sleep for most people.  For a waitress working the graveyard shift, the switch to Standard Time means a 9-hour shift with no overtime pay. Why do I mention this? Because this experience helped me to see with great clarity the relevance in a story that takes place more than 250 years ago.

Tanya Landman's publisher notes that author  "explores the lives of history’s dispossessed and disenfranchised."  Not only is this true, but her depiction of 1750s England also has a message and a relevancy to our own era.  When we read of something momentous in a history book, it does not have the same urgency or immediacy that it can have in the a work of historical fiction. If you read in a history book of the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, it would have little meaning to you if you had not had a similar experience. However, consider this scenario from Hell and High Water,

The village went to sleep on the evening of Wednesday, September 2nd, and woke on the morning of Thursday the 14th, yet this was no enchanted sleep or supernatural occurrence.  A year earlier an Act of Parliament had decreed that England's calendar must be synchronized with those of other nations.  In order to do so, eleven full days must be struck from the year.  Drinking coffee in Porlock's, Pa had explained the matter of the Gregorian and Julian calendars in great detail, but Caleb had paid little attention.  It involved politicians. Foreign nations.  Who cared about numbering the days?  It could make no difference to him and Pa.

He had given it no further thought at all until Letty returned from Tawpuddle with a rumor that William Benson would be collecting rent for the whole month of September as usual.  No concession was to made for the changing calendar.  Every tenant had lost eleven days of work and consequently eleven days of pay, but Sir Robert would not lose eleven days of rent.
The news made Anne dizzy with panic. "How can we manage? We will be turned out!"
"It can't be true!" Caleb scoffed.  "No man could be so unfair."
"Word of advice, boy . . ." The steward leaned toward him until his face was an inch from Caleb's.  Raising his voice so that the men who were unloading the boat could hear, Benson said, "If you want to keep a roof over that miserable hide of yours, you keep your head down and your mouth shut.  And you pay your rent when it's due, the same as everyone else."

The fact that Caleb is a person of color in 1750s England only makes his situation more difficult. His father is accused and convicted of a crime he did not commit, and Caleb is left to fend for himself in a world where birthright equals power and power equals money. Hell and High Water is a work of historical fiction, but it is also a murder mystery, and a story of race, class and privilege.  Sadly,  it has great relevance in our modern age.

Hell and High Water will be on a shelf near you in June, 2017.

My copy of Hell and High Water was provided by LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

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