Mixtapes for Hookers

In Which I Read An Amish Romance Novel
October 6, 2010, 11:40 am
Filed under: books | Tags: , ,

Winnie Lundy is injured trying to rescue the animals after her brother’s barn catches fire in the middle of the night. While in the hospital, she ends up falling for the Englisher brother of her Amish friends back home. Meanwhile, Winnie’s brother Jonathan has a hard time moving on after learning that the barn fire was caused by a cigarette.

This book, which I finished reading at 2:30 this morning, is seriously like no book that I have ever read before. The plot is fluffy and wholesome and, while it moves along rather quickly, it’s also a lot like reading a TV movie. There are plots and subplots which dovetail thematically, schemes are hatched as gently and unobtrusively as possible, and everyone works together to reach the happiest of happy endings. There’s one character who’s not in a very good place at the conclusion, but he takes comfort in knowing that things could always be worse.

I knew nothing about the Amish before reading this book, and my experience with romance novels up to now has been limited to one Harlequin fairytale in which a princess who is also a veterinarian births a magical unicorn and then falls in love with a meaty-thighed ex-prizefighter who wants to turn her castle into a home for the wayward boys of Portland, Oregon.

The plot of Forgiven, the third in Shelley Shepard Gray’s Sisters of the Heart series, is nothing like that insane (and wonderful) bodice-ripper. It’s a quiet story about regular people who just happen to be Amish.

The book is written as though the reader doesn’t know much about Amish culture. Every few pages there’s a word of Pennsylvania Dutch, and it’s always translated immediately after even though the meaning’s always pretty obvious from context. Customs are explained one by one, usually through questions asked by the outsider Anna Metzger, the one character in the book who wasn’t born Amish.

As a total newcomer to the bonnet novel, I thought a few things could have used a bit more explaining, though. The “courting buggy,” apparently exactly what it sounds like, is one; why would such simple people own separate vehicles just for the sake of wooing one another?

Another, more general question I had was about the women. Amish women appear pretty free to do as they please, especially in terms of choosing who they’re going to marry. So I was pretty shocked about ten pages from the book’s conclusion, when it was casually mentioned that Amish women only eat meals after the men have finished with theirs. Huh?

I also wonder why readers–at least, why readers in Pennsylvania and Ohio–are so drawn to Amish romances when so little actually happens within the stories. This is not a bodice-ripper.  Even Jane Austen would probably be bored by how slowly the courtship is drawn out.  We’re over two hundred pages into the story before the couple in question even hold hands. What’s the attraction?

Learning about the Amish via a romance novel is probably about as accurate as learning about anyone else via a romance novel, which is to say probably not very, so I’ll try not to draw too many conclusions. I picked up Forgiven last month as my boyfriend and I were driving home from Michigan. We had seen lots of bonnet novels–easily identifiable by their nearly identitcal covers–at rest stops along the Ohio Turnpike, and I wanted to take one home as a souvenir.

I learned about the bonnet novel phenomenon last year, after a Wall Street Journal article reported that up to 15% of the romance bestseller lists were made up of books about the Amish. It makes sense, really, considering that romance novels and religious titles are the only two parts of the publishing industry doing well in this economy. I was completely fascinated by the Amish romance concept, and talked about the trend ad nauseum to anyone who might listen.

I have to admit, though, that I probably won’t go out of my way to read more bonnet novels anytime soon.

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