A Review – Almost Amish

Kathryn Cushman, author of A Promise to Remember, Waiting for Daybreak, Leaving Yesterday, and Another Dawn, has quickly become one of my favorite writers. In fact, a friend of mine who read all her books in our church library said, Why, she’s every bit as good as Karen Kingsbury. I smiled at that because it’s a great compliment, comparing her to a best-selling author, but also because I happen to think Cushman is actually better.

It was with some trepidation, then, that I started in on her latest novel, Almost Amish (Bethany House). Trepidation, because I’m not particularly a fan of Amish fiction. Not that I’ve read much, so I’m not really one to give a fair evaluation. I do know a little about the Amish community, however, and am aware that many are not Christians. Hence, Christian fiction about Amish people made me suspect that their portrayal might not be accurate. Not so, according to my friend from church, but I’m off topic.

Perhaps because of my realization that my ideas about Amish fiction might be off kilter and because this was a Cushman novel, I plunged ahead.

Imagine my surprise to discover that Almost Amish is not about the Amish at all. Rather it’s about a contemporary family–or extended family–taking part in a reality TV show. The set up reminded me of an actual TV show which aired on PBS a number of years ago called Frontier House. The family in Cushman’s fictitious Tennessee locale are to live for the summer in a restored farm house, accomplishing tasks similar to those the Amish undertake regularly, in circumstances similar, but not identical, to the Amish. Hence, the title.

The set up is certainly interesting, but the real story is relational. The family that actually goes to live and be filmed consists of a divorced woman and her daughter, her sister-in-law and her two children, one boy and one girl. The suddenly blended families create conflict, certainly, but so does the interaction with the handyman and one of the production crew, not to mention with the producer of the show.

As always, I find Cushman’s characters to be vivid, real, multifaceted. They are heroic and fearful, determined and misguided, unaware and astute, sometimes all at the same time. They’re easy to care about, easy to cheer for. Even when they’re in conflict with each other, I want them both to win–or at least come to the realizations that would make their lives better.

I thought the reality TV set up was wonderful. It’s perfect for this day when so many people are glued to dance competitions or singing shows, ones about people locked together in houses, or stranded on an island, or condemned to suffer graceless falls or heartbreak for the sake of audience entertainment.

As usual, Cushman’s use of prose is efficient and crisp. She weaves description into the story artfully so that the action isn’t interrupted. Here’s a sample:

Soon, they were moving down a narrow country road [in a horse-drawn wagon], dotted with farms and pickup trucks and barns. The horseshoes made a pleasant rhythmic sound against the well-worn pavement as they wound slowly along the road. After several minutes, [the man leading the tour] turned around. “See them white houses up ahead? Those are some of our Amish houses . . .

As they passed the first house Julie noticed multiple lines of laundry–line after line of dark blue trousers and white shirts, ruffling slightly in the light breeze.

To the right of the house rested a large vegetable garden with a dozen or two neat rows of young plants. Two women stood out in the midst of it, hoes in hand.

“It seems awfully hot to be out gardening in the middle of the day like this. Especially in all that dark clothing.” Julie looked at the women in their black caps, dark long-sleeved dresses, and aprons. The morning’s humidity was already pressing on her, and she was wearing a knee-length khaki skirt and a sleeveless cotton top.

“This ain’t nothing. It’s nice today compared to what it’ll be in a month or two. Up in the nineties, air so thick you’d think you could drink it. Them women’ll be out there in it every day–gardening, doing laundry. They’re always working. It’s their way.”

A passage like this accomplishes so much–introducing characters, giving each a voice, showing the place, setting up future conflict. It’s really masterful.

My one “I wish” has to do with the end. I found it to be the neatest and tidiest section of the book, and I’d rather if it were a little ragged around the edges since that’s the way the characters had been throughout the story. I might have been thinking about these characters for days if things weren’t quite so completely zipped up, but I suspect few people will fret over a “too perfect” ending.

I highly recommend Almost Amish to anyone looking for a story that deals with inner conflict as much or more than outer conflict. This is a wonderful story that many in our driven-to-succeed culture can appreciate.

I received a review copy of this book without charge with no stipulation that my views would be favorable.

Published in: on August 8, 2012 at 5:47 pm  Comments (5)  
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