The Bookworm: A post-Apocalyptic Amish novel; and a bone-chiller
“When the English Fall”
By David Williams
c. 2017, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
$24.95, $37.95 Canada; 242 pages
Your parents taught you to share. You have enough to give some away. Don’t be stingy or selfish. Be good. Be generous. Be friends. Share nicely but watch, as in the new book “When the English Fall” by David Williams, that it doesn’t bring harm to your family.
Sadie’s screams cut Jacob to his core. He knew she was in pain, but he was helpless. He was her father, and he should have been able to fix her seizures, but the best he could do was to listen to her nonsensical rants and pray that God spare his eldest child more hurt.
Jacob was aware that people talked: his neighbors gossiped about Sadie’s seizures and visions, and they wondered if God was unhappy with Jacob’s furniture-making business. He knew that. Even Bishop Schrock came once a month to ask Jacob to stop working with an English man named Mike, but Mike was a friend. Though he was coarse, he was a trustworthy bridge between his people and the Plain folk.
Jacob was glad for that. Mike brought news of the world when he came to fetch the furniture Jacob had finished, which was how Jacob learned of trouble outside their Pennsylvania community.
There were power outages, and utility battles were intensifying. The National Guard was called out in some bigger cities, and people were running out of food. Still, while it was true that he heard distant gunfire at night and he was glad Mike kept him updated, the fact was that Jacob worried little about worldly affairs.
No, more pressing things concerned him: Sadie’s spells, for one. Another: making sure his farm was tended, and his family’s needs were met for the winter, even though it seemed, with “global warming,” that winter wasn’t coming.
What did come was trouble. As English society fell, as people hungered, looted, and killed, the Guard asked the Amish for help. They had food to eat. They had larders and knowledge. But how much did God expect them to give?
Start “When the English Fall” and be prepared for several things. You’ll get funny looks: a post-Apocalyptic Amish novel? How does that work? (It works fine. Better than fine. It’s incredible.)
You’ll be blown away by the juxtaposition of serene beauty, mindfulness, prayer, and a dark urgent terribleness-to-come (That works, too. Very much so).
And you’ll want to prepare your chair, because author David Williams has ensured that it’s the only place you’ll want to be. There, and inside this story of friendship, current events, love, and a scenario that isn’t so far-fetched: modern society suddenly collapses everywhere except in places where it’s already not welcome. It’s a gentle, darkly-calm sort of warning wrapped in aching loveliness, one that will leave you wondering what would really happen, if ….
Be aware that this is not a zombie book. Also, there are periods of slowness in this book that serve to bolster the whole of the story, and it’s a stunner. You’ll love “When the English Fall” so much, you’ll need to share.
By Neil Jordan
c. 2017, Bloomsbury
$27, $36 Canada; 282 pages
Your hair looks fine. It should; you’ve checked it a dozen times since you got out of bed this morning. Your hair, your teeth, your skin, your eyes, you want to make sure you look your best so you peek in the mirror as often as possible. But in the new book “Carnivalesque” by Neil Jordan, what you see is not what you get.
As an only child, Andy Rackard was a bit indulged.
Maybe it had to do with the tension between his parents, maybe not, but it didn’t really matter. When Andy asked for something – say, a side-trip to the carnival while heading to the mall – the car turned toward his wishes. So, while his parents gaped at carnival sideshows and gasped at neon-lit rides, Andy slipped away to Burleigh’s Amazing Hall of Mirrors. And he didn’t come out.
Instead, someone who looked like him did: a different Andy who left with the real Andy’s parents, while the real Andy was stuck inside the mirror. Stuck fast, until a girl who seemed to be his same age decided that his name was Dany, and pulled him out with hands that belied her age. She called herself Mona, and she told Dany that he’d make a fine roustabout for the carnival.
He was just as capable as the other rousties in their odd-fitting dungarees, and so she decided to keep him. She had wanted a child for way too long.
Eileen Rackard cried a lot those days. Jim, her husband, was obsessed with marmalade; true, it was his job, but it wasn’t his life. She felt so useless, and it didn’t help that Andy seemed distant, as if he didn’t remember how things once were. She chalked it up to adolescence, and hoped things might return to normal – until a local girl accused Andy of assault, flying ants began to plague the townspeople, and something emerged from the moss near the water …
Beginning with such promise, “Carnivalesque” is a nearly-instant blood-chiller. When young Andy is sucked into the mirror and replaced, it’s as if a childhood horror has come to life and everything comfortable is snatched away. Homesickness, even to a small degree, may also appear in a sentimental reader but don’t lose focus: observations are made in those pages, and they’ll become important.
It’s a good beginning. Sadly, you’ll then need to muddle awhile, since this book begins to crack under its own story-weight, somewhere shortly before the middle: there are go-nowhere plot-lines and empty back-story that seem awfully extraneous, as though author Neil Jordan sprinkled pepper into his tale for flavor, but it ruins the recipe. It’s told in a dreamy, otherworldly way, which can be that part’s only saving grace.
Fear not, though: despite a clunky middle, the ending of this book is just as creepy as the beginning, and readers ages 15-to-adult will love every chill. If you like that kind of novel and if you can get that far, “Carnivalesque” could be a book you can see yourself reading.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.