The most recent list of fiction books available to review for Bethany House Publisher didn’t thrill me when I initially saw it. But as I perused the list more closely, one book in particular jumped out at me: The Bridesmaid, by Beverly Lewis.
In the last few years, Amish fiction has taken off. No, not fiction by Amish people; fiction (mostly romances, honestly) about Amish people. In a Salon.com article on this very topic, Steve Oates, vice president of marketing for Bethany House, says, “bonnet books are a sure thing and have been ever since Beverly Lewis single-handedly gave birth to the genre in the late ’90s.” (The article also cites that, “Incidentally, Wal-Mart accounts for 50 percent of the sales of Amish fiction’s top authors.”) He continues, “bonnet book readers get really emotionally connected to the characters and their lives. That means the authors are really doing their job.”
I knew of the Amish fiction genre but have always mentally scoffed at it (despite my love of Nicholas Sparks). But when I saw this book by Beverly Lewis, “the queen of the bonnet book,” available to review, I thought, “Why not give it a shot?”
The Bridesmaid follows the story of 24-year-old Joanna Kurtz, an old maid by Plain standards, who has been three times a bridesmaid but never a bride. As you might hope, she meets a man, Eben, but he lives in a different state–a big deal for people whose lives are dictated by the Ordnung of their bishop. They struggle through a long-distance relationship, but much hinges on the return of Eben’s brother, who appears to have chosen the English (that is, non-Amish) world over his farm heritage. The book takes soft twists and turns. The romance, obviously, is understated, which was somewhat refreshing. The novel paints a picture of Amish family life that comes across as idyllic when compared with the hustle and bustle and noise most of us face. I really wanted to sit down to dinner with the Kurtz family at their weathered farmhouse table and dig into their hearty, delicious-sounding food!
I don’t know how realistic the Amish details are, but I have to admit there is something fascinating about being a fly on the wall of a different culture. However, I wondered the whole time what the Amish community would think of these books. I doubt they’re hiding under the covers reading them, but who knows! Unfortunately the dialect that Lewis uses throughout was a stumbling block to my enjoyment of the book. Presumably the dialogue is “really” happening in Pennsylvania Dutch, but the book is obviously written in English. Lewis throws in a German phrase or two as if to add to the authenticity, and there’s the odd colloquial English word or phrase too. I had trouble taking the “ya”s and “ain’t”s seriously for some reason. Although, I think I may just be adopting the word “ferhoodled” for my own use. (Feelin’ ferhoodled today, ain’t ya?)
All in all the book was enjoyable enough. It was pretty light and fluffy but mostly satisfying. I was engaged enough to find Joanna’s sister quite annoying but not enough to be moved when the romantic conclusion finally came about. It was pat and rather predictable, and I don’t think I’m a convert to the Amish fiction way. I can understand, though, why so many women have bought into the genre–it’s good old romantic escapism, and I can’t blame them for enjoying it!