Two of my favorite topics are the end of society as we know it and the Amish. So when I heard about an apocalyptic fiction novel told from the viewpoint of the Amish, I couldn’t wait to read it. When the English Fall by David Williams did not disappoint.
The novel is made up of the diary entries of Jacob, an Amish man leaving in the countryside outside of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Although the novel begins quietly, with daily entries about the farm and Jacob’s worries about his daughter’s seizures, the first sentence is filled with the potential for violence, and it set me on edge right away.
“I hold her, tight in my arms, and she screams. It is the morning, it is dawn, and the red sun fills the bedroom with late summer heat, and as she strains I hold her tighter, and still she screams. Her eyes are wide and unseeing, and her arms lash out, a dress on a clothesline before a storm.”
The novel continues, quietly, chronicling Jacob’s marriage, farm chores, struggles with faith, and his place in the community. Williams is skilled to show so much in these short entries. Although Jacob could easily be flat, too good, too moral, Williams gives him a troubled back story filled with difficult choices. Life beyond their community is distant, the lights that pollute the sky at night, the clients who order new cabinetry. Anyone outside the plain people is considered the English. They are apart, but not unfamiliar to Jacob as he lived among them during his running around years.
When the English Fall, in a gorgeous, lyrical scene, the world slowly encroaches upon Jacob’s community. The novel takes on a gripping pace then, but the poetic beauty remains, even in the violence. I did not want this book to end. I could have stayed in its carefully written beautiful pages for much longer. This is a book that I will re-read a few times, re-reading certain passages over and over again, just to linger in their beauty. What a wonderful story.
David Williams is a pastor in the Presbyterian Church. He lives in Northern Virginia. This is his first novel. Here is a link to the New York Times Review: The Amish Guide to the Apocalypse. The novel is now in paperback and available on Amazon and bookstores everywhere.