Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

A Novel Approach to Amish Fiction

Birth of Mennonite movement

Birth of Mennonite movement (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At one time I had a fascination with the Amish, having both a curiosity and a respect for their way of life.  I read both fiction and non-fiction on them, and even though my interest is not as keen, it’s still there. There has come a certain realization I am not alone with this interest as I am noticing a plethora of Amish fiction titles  appearing  in bookstores, and as choices for my review selections.  Why the sudden interest in the Amish?  Probably, like me, there is a fascination, a curiosity, and it’s hoped, a respect for their gentle way of life.

Most of these Amish titles are of the romance variety and I quickly pass on them; however, I recently came across an author whom I had been searching for, W. Dale Cramer, while trying to locate a previous read title, and found Cramer’s, Levi’s Will. Having been impressed with his previous title, Summer of Light, I grabbed this newly discovered title  and checked it out for my weekend read.

The cover said it had been selected by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the Best Books of 2004, and that intrigued me even more beyond the inside cover which indicated the plot revolved around a son seeking his father’s forgiveness, a shunned son of an Amish farmer.  I decided to revisit my interest in the Amish.

One of the more interesting aspects of this novel is Cramer’s profound inside knowledge of the Amish. The details didn’t smack of Internet researching. The mannerisms, the everyday expectations, even the conversations bespoke of intimate knowledge that comes from living the life.  The acknowledgements indicate the events are loosely based on family events, which of course prompted me to go to Cramer’s site and investigate. It turns out his father was raised Old Order Amish, and his mother was raised as a daughter of a Georgia sharecropper.  There definitely is a story with that family history. The story revolves around Will, who runs away from responsibilities foisted on him that he is not ready to take on.  As the story progresses he attempts to find a compromise between his Amish upbringing and the modern world.  Although he could have fallen on declaring himself a conscientious objector in order to avoid WWII, he philosophically explains his reasoning for joining up with the Army to his younger brother: 

“How is it right to seek out the protection of men with guns and yet refuse to take part in that protection? Is there not a debt?  Is it not hypocrisy?”

The rest of the plot addresses Will’s struggle to live among the “English” as he valiantly struggles to receive the forgiveness of his father.

I found the plot intriguing, well-written, and timeless.  The story of the prodigal son dates back to biblical times, which makes this story all the more relevant: there is an innate need for the love and favor of our parents, particularly the blessing of our father for our chosen life decisions.

The novel opens up with a poem by William Carlos Williams:

What power has love but forgiveness?
In other words
by its intervention
what has been done
can be undone.

What good is it otherwise?

The theme of forgiveness mixed in with the cultural journeying of Will Mullet made this a read that ended too soon.  This was an unusual Amish read, and for those who are looking beyond the “bonneted” Amish love stories, I suggest picking this one up.  It’s also a suggested read for those who are seeking to bridge the gap in a parental or family relationship.

Then again, pick up the book since W. Dale Cramer is a writer who spins a great story.Levi's Will

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One thought on “A Novel Approach to Amish Fiction

  1. While much of Christian fiction tends to be overly optimistic, unrealistically wholesome, and often just plain sappy, Cramer injects much more realism and intellect into his prose, a writing style that is much more comparable to good mainstream fiction authors.I thoroughly enjoyed “Levi’s Will.” Spanning over 40 years, this book tells the story of Will, a teenage boy who runs away from his Amish home and leaves behind a pregnant Amish girl. He subsequently enters WWII as a soldier, marries a strong-willed young woman from Georgia, and has a family of his own, but over the years his soul longs for his father’s forgiveness and acceptance. He also wonders about the fate of the Amish girl and unborn child that he left behind–details that he kept hidden from his wife. However, Will’s father, Levi, is a hard man dedicated to the strict Old Order Amish who refuses to forgive his “wayward” son. It’s a beautiful story of bitterness and forgiveness, and one I highly recommend.While this story has its melancholy moments, Cramer includes enough hope to encourage the reader. One thing especially profound about this novel is its treatment of time. For over 30 years, Will seeks his father’s forgiveness. That requires substantial patience and wisdom, something we all need more of. Will is a flawed character, which I like because he’s very human, but Cramer shows that God doesn’t always tie a neat bow on our lives and answer our prayers like we think He should. Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes we just don’t understand life. Cramer’s writing is extremely honest–something I’m very glad to see in the Christian fiction market. I’m eager to see what Cramer writes next.

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