Wanda E. Brunstetter’s AMISH COOKING CLASS: THE BLESSING and the Comfort of the Familiar
Several months ago, I was briefly a guest at the fictional Troyer farm, where Heidi and Lyle offer you their hospitality and their love of humanity. Their farm is a calm and peaceful place: plenty of sunshine, plenty of nature. Yes, things sometimes go wrong for the Troyers and the people around them, but there are no politics. People are focused on growing in love for others. They want to nourish their bodies, hearts, and minds.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, Heidi is teaching more of her famous cooking classes. Wanda E. Brunstetter was kind enough to chronicle what happened in her new book, Amish Cooking Class: The Blessing. Here’s the book trailer.
When the first book ended, Heidi was expecting to adopt the child of one of her students. At the beginning of this book, Kendra has changed her mind. Heidi is understandably disappointed, but decides not to dwell on her grief. The formula holds; there are six more students, including a caterer and a food critic, a wife who feels neglected, and a teenage girl whose mother took off. Do I even need to say that Heidi and her six students will have meaningful experiences that bring them closer to each other and to their faith?
The great charm of this novel (and of many Amish inspirational romances, however you wish to label them) is that the conflicts are very meaningful to the characters, but everything usually works out. The characters are sometimes cross with each other, but always in a relatable manner that doesn’t kick up too much of the reader’s own psychological pain. Ms. Brunstetter offers us a passage into another world, where we can escape…all of the things.
Ms. Brunstetter also takes her time. Her prose is always clear, and she often explains things that don’t need to be explained. I sometimes wonder what an MFA workshop might say about the prose. (MFA workshops, of course, are also known as the “Circle of Love,” so dubbed by the great Lee K. Abbott.) Some might say that there are “inefficiencies” in the prose. I contend that the prose fits the tone of the novel and the story its author is trying to tell.
Here’s an example. It’s the very first paragraph, in fact:
Loving and good-hearted workshop members may wonder:
- Do we need to know that Heidi peeled and cut the onion? Why not just say “cut?” Isn’t it a given that a person peels an onion they are going to cut and use as an ingredient?
- Is “savory” necessary? Isn’t meat loaf inherently savory?
- Do we need to know the reason Heidi is feeling the gust of wind? Do we need to know that the room is being aired out?
- Does Heidi need to go to the window to look out the window? It’s a window; windows are generally transparent. Why couldn’t she just look?
There are a lot of examples of this kind of prose, and I make the case that the “inefficiencies” are a great benefit to the book. Ms. Brunstetter’s novel, it seems to me, has two goals, give or take:
- To tell an uplifting story that helps people in some spiritual manner. (Ms. Brunstetter seems like a kind woman, so I’m guessing she’d prefer the reader feel a Christian kind of love, but she’d take whatever she can get in that regard.)
- To transport the reader to Walnut Creek and immerse them in the Amish world and and way of life.
When you consider these goals, the “inefficiencies” are anything but. Why do Amish people use buggies instead of cars? So they can devote more thought and time to hard work and faith. (Among other reasons.) The Blessing is not the kind of book in which the author wishes to experiment with narrative or to force the reader to do a lot of work. No, Ms. Brunstetter wants the book to be a happy comfort, and her prose style helps her achieve that goal.
Amish Cooking Class: The Blessing is a welcome return to Walnut Creek. Ms. Brunstetter avoids the pitfalls of writing the second book in a series; this one is sufficiently different from the first to remain interesting though it follows the same formula. The reader finds themselves pulling for all of the characters because we can all relate to their concerns in one way or another. (We want our significant others to love us, we want to fulfill our need to nurture, we sometimes struggle with forgiving those who have abandoned us…)
There are many great writers in the Amish genre, and Ms. Brunstetter is one of those near the top. If you’ve never read in the genre, consider giving this or another of her books a try.
BONUS: Here is a great talk that Ms. Brunstetter gave to a library gathering. She is not the same kind of writer as we hear in the “MFA crowd,” and that is a good thing. She is very much a writer and storyteller, and we would all benefit from understanding more of the industry that we inhabit. (Or to which we aspire.)