Beverly Lewis (1997)
Thee Grayte Amish Fiction Reading Experimente of Twenty and Ten
The Deuce of Clubs Amish Fiction Book Club
sure, sure, of course. But even though the ancient Spartans aren't ethically or morally admirable, there's always a certain amount of interest (possibly morbid) in people who are bizarrely singlemindedwouldn't you agree?
Oh, hel-LO, there. And WEL-come! <sets empty martini glass on passing butler's tray> You caught me mid-sentence, there. In medias res, as we say in the lit biz. <wipes caviar-smeared fingers on fancy smoking jacket front> Say, speaking of literature and bizarre singlemindedness, have I mentioned that I just read an AMISH ROMANCE NOVEL?
[Note for Overly Busy People with Lives and Responsibilities More Important than Mine, Who are Too Busy to Read an Entire Web Page About an Amish Romance Novel (Let Alone Read an Amish Romance Novel):
If you're just looking for the short answer, then...
A: ...yes. The Shunning is as big a turd as any intelligent reader would suspect it would be. The End, Selah.]
Now, for the more curious among you (a.k.a., those of you cruising the web on work time <wink>)....
"You best be reverent when ya speak of the shunning." (p. 245)
My heartiest condolences to you, fictional Amish character trapped in a crappy romance novel, but I don't think I can manage that. I mean, I can kind of reverence the custom of shunning, itself (I'd love to see it revived and widespread and directed against bureaucrats and their lackeys everywhere). I just can't seem to budge the reverence lever <elbows you in the buttonless suspenders> for Beverly Lewis's absurd and badly written book named for shunning. (To be honest, I couldn't even trouble myself to find out why Lewis uses Meinding as the Amish term for shunning, whereas the Amish word for shunning seems to be Meidung. But, based on past experience with disparaging religious matter here at Deuce of Clubs, I'm sure I'll find out soon, by way of some museum piece of an ungrammatical marvel of an email from an irate Beverly Lewis fanatic.) (Or, if history's any guide, a flood of emails.)
But what I'll pretend all you religious people are wanting to know is: How did I get myself roped into reading an Amish romance novel?
Well, see, my extended familial situation is strange and uncomfortable in that, on either side of my parentage, I am the lone non-fundamentalist Christian. (If you're one of those census takers I'm always having to duck, you can classify me as an atheist anarchist . . . ya Nosey Parker). What that means is that I find myself in sympathy with very few of their pursuits and they are (by design) mostly ignorant of the blasphemies that would horrify them regarding mine. So it was weird when by chance I found out that a few members of my bloodline (and many of their friends) seem to be a little bit addicted, frankly, to reading various types of Christian-themed romance novels and trading them among one other.
Now, if I may be frank two times in a row . . . I'd say it's hard to see how reading romance novels, religious-themed or otherwise, falls under the category of "redeeming the time, because the days are evil"and I'm almost sure it isn't what the nobleman in Jesus's parable meant by "occupy till I come." I wouldn't think a Christian would want to be found in the middle of reading some Christian romance novel when Jesus returns (especially when it's entirely possible that the Lamb of God prefers vampire and werewolf fictionalthough that would at least go some distance toward explaining the success of Stephenie Meyer).
My relatives like to swap these religious romance novels among each other but the stories in them are evidently so interchangeable that it's hard for them to remember which ones they've read, so as each person in the group finishes reading one of them, she'll inscribe her initials inside the front cover, so as to avoid the calamity of inadvertently re-reading a religious romance novel that's so unremarkable in every way that it's almost impossible to remember having read it.
(Their initialing scheme reminded me of this lady I once saw in a used book store, who brought in a box of romance novels to trade in and had a checklist of romance novels she was looking for. But there were no book titles on her list. Instead, she requested each book by numberas one does, of course, with all great literature. And baseball cards.)
It's hard for me to see the point of spending large chunks of time reading books that have to be numbered because numbers are about the only thing that distinguishes one from another. Plus, if they make so little impression, it seems to me you could get the same effect (and save money besides) by just reading the same book over and over, until Jesus comes back and slaps it out of your fat hand.
Even if one views life as a mere marking of time, reading romance novels seems like a sad way to do itand reading religious romance novels seems approximately quadruply sad.
But then I overheard my relatives talking about something supremely sad: Amish romance novels.
If you already want to kill yourself today, don't look at this:
3 Odd Foot of Grunts? Kind of: it's ma's shelf of fine Amish romance novels.
[Image tilted vertically for ease of sadness.]
There's such a thing as AMISH ROMANCE NOVELS. What? Thee? Fooking? Fook?
And something clicked. Something primal. I was somehow compelled (maybe in the name of blood-related solidarity or cultural bridge-building, maybe plain old manmade-disaster-bystanderism) to take part in this quaint and disheartening family traditionthough only once, of course; as the philosopher Voltaire said, upon turning down an invitation to experience an orgy for the second time, "Once, a philosopher; twice, a pervert." (Although, unlike a second orgy, if I were to read a second Amish romance novel, apparently I would not remember it.)
To make my experiment in Amish romance even sadder, I decided, in the spirit of Amish technological forward-lookingness, to share my sadness by live-Tweeting ("Tweet" = <barf>) my reactions to this literary abortion over the Internet.
(And no one even tried to talk me out of any of this. I thought I had friends, man!)
The good part was that reading the novel took only a few quick sittings. The phrase light reading might have been devised for just such a book as this. And how was the book?
Well . . . that was the bad part. You know how seven out of ten people (note: made-up, bullshit statistic) who reviewed Kick-Ass and liked it somehow came up with the idea of saying it "kicked ass"? Now think of the most basic and obvious response to the title The Shunning and you'll know both how the book was and how I'll be responding to all future Amish romance novel reading opportunities. The Shunning most definitely does not kick ass. The experience of reading it was like some oddball wrestling match, possibly similar to the ludicrous contest described in the Bible, between Jacob and YHWH-disguised-as-an-angel (or, depending upon one's theology, the pre-incarnate Christ), except that in this agonizing competition, (a) horror grappled with hilarity until I felt I'd been butt-violated by a funny bone in the shape of a buggy whip, and (b) my "thigh sinew" (whatever that is) seems to have emerged from the experience intact (for all I know).
I did succeed in reading the entire book (this ain't my first bungling Christian fiction rodeo, cowboy). I got through it the way I do whenever I read an ineptly written book: by imagining what it'd be like if someone wrote it who didn't suck. Usually someone such as Dostoevsky, Hemingway, or Kafka, but in this case, you could almost pick another author at random and be nearly statistically certain that your choice of author could not possibly suck more than Beverly Lewis. And it's the fault of Beverly Lewis, not the Amish. Interesting novels can and are written about dull, misguided, insular people. They just can't be written by celebrating dullness, misguidedness, and insularity. What makes it worse is when they're written by an artless, hammy, sappy, cliché-ridden romance novel hack. (Am I looking at you, Beverly Lewis?) (A: I am looking at you, Beverly Lewis.)
If you'd like to read further, more specific, disbelieving and unforgiving criticisms of (read: pot shots at) the book's contents, you'll find them "Tweeted" <oof> below in my customary suave and urbane style, butpleasedon't think I'm under the impression that an interest in great (or even competent) writing is what leads a person to resort to curling up with a book detailing the exciting lives of people who [hrmm, let's avoid the word shun...let's go with . . . avoid! No, wait:] eschew automobiles, guitars, and electricitythough,
curiously, not wheels, eyeglasses, or propane. For familial reasons, I don't want to go into what, exactly, I think chases certain types of people into the arms of such a complete horseapple of a book. (Eat my mixed metaphor, Amishmongers!) If, thoughand I'm only going by the novel, here, butif the Amish have such a problem with guitars and humming tunes that aren't thankful and joyous hymns about sinners in the hands of an angry god, I have to wonder what they think of Amish romance novels?
Imagine this is how you are:
now try to imagine NOT making up dull stories about Amish people. (Impossible, right?)
I wouldn't have to wonder about that if I worked for the marketing division of a publishing house. In fact, wondering what a bunch of weirdos in beards and bonnets think about anything, least of all Amish romance novels, is the last thing I'd have to do, even if the publisher published Amish romance novels. That's because the target audience for Amish romance novels seems to consist almost exclusively of non-Amish religious women who somehow wish they could be even more repressed by a traditional Western religion than they already are. And holy cowbells is that one tongue-down-the-throat of a marketing strategy. The Shunning? More like, The Stunningin that it temporarily paralyzed my desire-to-write muscle when I discovered that this puddle of butt dribble sold over HALF A MILLION copies! Not only that, but someone's making a movie of it. True, that someone is said to be Michael Landon, Jr. (son of the late Little House on the Prairie <cough> and Highway to Heaven <ack> star). And it'll be a production of Hallmark, which has the golden touch when it comes to turning the crappiest material into even crappier movies.
Even so, admit itespecially if you're a writer who makes every effort to do good and meaningful work (or even just spew amusing nonsense that doesn't completely suck)wouldn't you be happy to receive even a tiny slice of what Christians spend on utter crap and nonsense practically every nanosecond of any given day?
<curtain falls; it's decorated with a giant frownie face>
We thank you for attending this meeting of the Deuce of Clubs Amish Fiction Book Club (DOCAFBC)!
IMPORTANT DEUCE OF CLUBS AMISH FICTION BOOK CLUB NOTE: The Deuce of Clubs Amish Fiction Book Club (DOCAFBC) is hereby disbanded. All former members are admonished to be ashamed of themselves. We shall never again discuss (or, one hopes, mention) Amishphilic or Amish-centric fiction. Never, ever, ever (x ∞).
IMPORTANT DEUCE OF CLUBS NON-AMISH FICTION BOOK CLUB NOTE: The Deuce of Clubs Book Club shall continue to exist, and shall not allow this unfortunate lapse into wholesomeness to result in reviews or discussions of reruns of Touched By An Angel or Highway to Heaven. While I admit that I still have the borrowed copy of The Shunning in my possession, I'm almost sure I won't forget I've read it and accidentally read it again, and if I did, I wouldn't tell you, nor would I tell you whether I wrote my initials inside the front cover, and when I return it, I definitely won't be telling my relatives what I've written here. Instead, I'll try being nice, just to see what that's like.
(Or did the Amish get to me after all?)
<Ominous Doctor Phibes organ chords>
<Six burly Amish farmers with axes appear and go all Carrie Nation on the organ>
Postscript: Last month (apr2010), Beverly Lewis published yet another goddamned Amish romance novel. Keep fucking that werechicken*, Beverly.
*[were·chicken \'wir-chi-kən n. were + chicken from OHG wer, man + ME chiken, chicken : 1. Like a werewolf, except . . . a chicken. 2. A synonym for WTF. Origin: Twitter, 2010 < blunderbussed "#werechickens is going to be my wtf tag."]
The Live Tweeting of The Shunning:
My ma, sis & niece read Amish romance novels. I asked ma to pick one for me to read. Whichever one doesn't have Harrison Ford is fine by me.
They initial inside the front cover as a tacit admission that if you've read one Amish novel, you've read them all. I might regret this.
Turns out, Amish romance novels aren't by just one author--they're *a whole genre*. Behold, the earth hath many varieties of crazy persons.
What could Amish conflict be? They don't even have to worry which TV channel to watch. But: an Amish character uses a credit card, I'm DONE.
Ma picked out "A Sister's Secret." Zzz. "A Cousin's Love" sounded intriguing, till I read the back cover (no Amish Appalachians, turns out).
I picked "The Shunning." I thought it said "The Shining" & was like, WHAT?!? It's about some baby clothes in the attic. ZOMG
Ma asked me not to destroy the book after I'm finished. She was completely serious. (What kind of non-Amish animal does she think I am?)
I'll tell you, though: I'm going to be mightily disappointed if there's no "bundling." (That's an Amish thing, right?)
Wow, these Amish characters are every bit as much fun as you'd expect people who run around quoting the Bible all the time would be.
It's hard to imagine how bored of life I'd have to be for stories about Amish people to work as escapist literature.
p. 16: A bodice! But: it's a baby bodice. p. 72 OMG KISS! But: "he leaned close and kissed her cheek." It's like boob flix on TV: no bewbs.
Still: KISSING!!!1@! #Amishboner
"Amish folk relied on propane gas to run their refrigerators, and a battery-operated well pump." Needed: Amish version of the show Cheaters.
p. 96: "There's just not many left around these parts who live the way the Lord God intended from the beginning." What--with propane?
It's a narrow definition of technology that doesn't take in THE WHEEL. Or EYEGLASSES. Or YOUR NEIGHBOR'S TELEPHONE. What's the Amish cutoff?
At least a Lifetime movie'd have some mayhem or adultery. This novel's protagonist is conscience-stricken over "humming forbidden songs."
Damn, even _Left Behind_ would have some external conflict. Inner turmoil over a hummer, I could forgive, but humming = "willful sinning"?
"Maybe if you'd destroyed that instrument of evil when I first caught you at it, that guitar wouldn't be destroyin' you now" (p. 32).
According to this book, the Amish view the Mennonites the way punks viewed New Wavers.
Here's something: "As the presiding elder, it had been his duty to administer the rites as the tin cup spilled baptismal water over her..."
"...head and down her face. But he'd not been prepared for the silky feel of her auburn hair beneath his fingers." (p. 97)
"He would gather his new bride into his arms here in this very bed--hold her tenderly and demonstrate his love for her." (Not buying that.)
Because when Christians hear "bride," they think "Christ." How's anything supposed to get done on wedding night with THAT in your head?
p. 126: "Will you destroy that instrument of evil?" "I will destroy the instrument of evil." [<stabs pastor> "Oh--you meant the *guitar*?"]
I envision Rumspringa more as a mail-order product advertised on late night TV.
p. 132: "Never would she step so far from the fold as to be shunned...." Except, since this book is called "The Shunning"....
p. 139: "CD player? What's that?" "Oh, it's some sort of machine that plays music on tiny little records." "Well, if that don't beat all."
pp. 128-9: "Long after John's visit, but before the afternoon milking, Rebecca met up with Samuel in the barn." #shouldbesalaciousbutisnt
(I'll bet I'm the first person ever to live-Tweet the reading of an Amish romance novel. HISTORY IS BEING MADE HERE PEOPLE)
p. 136: "This woman was even now dying of a terminal disease." [As opposed to dying of a non-terminal disease, you see.]
So far there hasn't been a single swear word in this Amish romance novel.
ZOMG YOU GUYS SHE JUST FOUND OUT SHE'S A FOUNDLING FROM AMONG THE "ENGLISH" (NON-AMISH)!!!!
Check out the clunky lead-in: "Katie was aware of a portentious feeling, as though something she had always known deep down was about to be
revealed--like the missing piece of a life-sized puzzle, maybe, or an explanation she'd waited her whole lifetime to hear."
Now *that* is some shit writing, right there. (Also: Are Amish allowed to play with puzzles?)
"Katie Lapp, running out of her own wedding...well, now, nothing like *this* had ever happened in Hickory Hollow." <knee slap> <chaw spit>
"Since Beiler, at his first wedding, had observed the customary ritual of chopping off the heads of thirty chickens, he delegated the task..
...to three of his brothers and other close relatives, out of respect for his dead wife" (p. 179). Sentimental bastards, those Amish.
Whatever the current mental illness rate, it's underreported if the calculation fails to include readers of Amish-centric fiction.
Thot it was just my family. NOT RELIEVED RT @blunderbussed I could build a barn with all of the Amish romance books we get in at the store.
Uh oh. I'm being followed by "Paranormal Romance"! (Here on Twitter, I mean. In real life I'd be casting an anti-spell or whatever they do.)
Amish romances were revelation enough--now @blunderbussed tells me about NASCAR & Baby on Board romances. I feel so sheltered. #werechickens
It's amazing how literature so chaste is making my intellect feel so raped.
It occurs to me only now that ma may be thinking there's hope I'll be converted to Xtianity by reading an Amish romance novel. #werechicken
Up until now I'm not sure I ever really disliked the Amish. #FORTHELOVEOFFUCKIREALLYAMREADINGANAMISHROMANCENOVEL
"She must've kept her maiden name--and added it onto her married name. I've heard they do such things out in the modern world." #werechicken
"The young Amish couple down the hall just lost their baby. Stillborn...full term--a perfect baby girl." But for the, y'know, stillbornness.
p. 278: "If you are not sitting down, maybe you should be, because, you see, I, your brother Daniel, am alive."
"Indeed, there was an accident at sea, but I did not drown on my nineteenth birthday, as you may have believed all these years."
OMG her birth mom's a lady who's rich now--and dying! Plus, the dead love of her life is alive--& looking for her! Deus ex schmaltzina!
Our heroine gets shunned all the way to the eff! bee! eye! Wait, wrong book! Here she gets to enn! why! see! Holy fucktardism! #werechicken!
"When Rebecca's desperate hacking subsided, the two women clung to each other as though it was to be the last embrace of their lives." DEFT
By the by...the Amish sure do seem to do a lot of lurking and eavesdropping.
Off to sleep...and dream of women with uncovered heads who smoke, drink, fuck, cuss, and hum worldly tunes. Ferhoodly-doo!
So, *shunning* turns out to mean Amish people refusing to talk to you. I get the impression that's meant to be regarded as a...punishment?
A couple's first kiss usually comes before their first wedding anniversary, although I understand this is not the custom in Amish country.
Thanks, everyone, for hanging tough during my brief period of Amish experimentation. I'll write up some final thoughts and post the url.
(Surprisingly, I seem not to have lost any Twitter followers over The Shunning. That's kind of ironic or whichever the word is.)