Sunday, August 27, 2017

When the English Fall by David Williams

Dystopian fiction is all the rage and has been for some time now, especially in the YA market. Done well, it can make for great storytelling (see work by Orwell, Atwood, Huxley, Bradbury, Burgess, etc). I keep reading how, with that orange maniac and his cronies hastening the decline of the republic, this outpouring of dystopian fiction is a metaphor, as well as a manifestation, of our current fears. Perhaps so. I was especially intrigued by his new spin on it and was rewarded with a fast, tense novel that practically made me yearn to be Amish. 

Jacob is an old order Amish farmer in rural eastern Pennsylvania and the story is told from his journal entries. At first, they are normal, even mundane, as he discusses work on the farm, the families in his community, and his hopes and fears for his own family. His daughter has an ability to see the future which causes him grave concern but, of late, she has been on an even keel. Still, he worries. 

One evening, the skies dance with strange light, both beautiful and terrifying. However, no light shines from the nearby town and the family sees a plane plummet from the sky. The next day, Jacob learns a solar storm has destroyed all electric and electronic power. The English world (the non-Amish world) is crippled. 

So begins the end of the world scenario--communication is all but impossible and as desperation leads to lawlessness, the Army's grasp on order slips. Jacob clings to his family, his community, and his deep faith as the English begin to encroach on his way of life. 

What most endeared Jacob to me was his sense of honor, fairness, and grace amidst the struggle over which he has no control. Were it not for the dire situation for the English, he could live his life as he always has but he must serve his fellow man and so he does. While his family and community come first, he also helps those outside, even taking in an English family. Williams evokes great humanity in Jacob and his wife, Hannah, and the religious aspects of the book never seems cloying. In fact, they seem quite genuine which makes sense since the author is a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church.

When The English Fall is a rewarding story of kindness and decency set in a time of desperation and ruin. Let's hope it's not too prescient. If so, I want Jacob as my neighbor. 

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