October 07, 2011
Plain Secrets by Joe Mackall
Mackall manages to become a close trusted friend of the Shetlers (names changed to protect privacy) an Amish family who moves in near him and becomes his neighbors. Over the course of the years he visits with them and their children, learns their ways and about their family, and even trades favors with them. Because of this relationship, when he asks if he can write a book on their family, they agree. There isn't really a timeline to the novel, it covers a forward moving piece of time in which a young boy leaves the order and his struggles with becoming "English" and the book also covers the life of Samuel Shetler and his immediate family.
Mackall details the house Samuel is building and what his family does day to day. He touches on some of the religious aspects and rules the Swartzentruber's have for their order. He also offers his opinion on everything he sees. This author does not sit back and tell about the family, he immerses himself in their life and comments on what he thinks about it. He tells you what he thinks is good, what is bad, and what areas are just shaded grey.
Mackall has a clear writing style and he does a great job at describing the people he's writing about. I did find some fault however. It seems that he might have written this book in parts, and as such, there are many trivial details that are repeated throughout the different chapters. Most of this is needless because the reader isn't reading one chapter every month or so and doesn't need to be reminded of these details. Also, his opinions are very waffling. He constantly can't decide whether their life is good or bad or if ever approached if he would help one leave the order. While these are all good thoughts and opinions by him, they take up quite a bit of space in the book sometimes.
I did enjoy reading about the Amish and this particular family. It was a great glimpse into the life of the Amish. Even knowing a couple Amish I had never realized just how rule bound their life was or even some of the more simple day to day things they had to do. This is a great book for learning a bit more about some of the most intriguing people in America.