Oh, and simple gifts. On Sunday I’ll be drawing for a $15 gift certificate to be e-mailed to one lucky commenter.
An article in this week’s Newsweek (12/13/10) caught my eye. “Love, Amish Style; These novels raise questions about modern life.” I loved the 1985 movie “Witness,” but I wasn’t aware that “bonnet fiction” was currently all the rage. I read on. According to author Lisa Miller, the Amish romance is “modeled on the bodice rippers that generations of women have read for escape,” and while plotlines are “familiar,” the romance is less between man and woman and more between woman and a simple, sane, peaceful way of life. Whatever the appeal, it’s translating into bestsellers. “You slap a bonnet on the cover and double the sales,” said a Bethany House marketing vp. Miller goes on to point out a few realities of the Amish way that might blunt its appeal outside fiction, but Romance readers understand that getting lost in, say, the Regency period through a book doesn’t compare to what the reality would have been for even the most privileged woman.
But what interests me is the notion that the modern woman’s hunger for more tranquility, community, face time with friends and family may be growing. Being chained to gadgets might be losing some of its appeal. Conveniences and creature comforts have made life easier in some ways, more complicated in others. Just keeping up with the gadgetry is draining for some of us. Concern for the environment we’re building for our children and grandchildren and who they will become in the face of it all keeps some of us up at night. Maybe if we were more like the Amish… And so begins the fantasy.
We visited the Amish community in Harmony, MN last summer. My daughter and I found it so interesting the first time we went—she was writing a paper—that we persuaded my husband to go with us for a second tour. (That’s my granddaughter in the buggy.) Clyde loved it. He has a knack for drawing people out, and we got lots of anecdotes and plenty of details about how the hard work gets done without many of the conveniences most of us consider to be necessities. One woman told me that she got up at or before dawn, depending on the season, worked all day every day of the week but one, fell into bed at night so she could get up the next morning and do it all over again. But she wouldn’t have it any other way, she said, and in fact, the percentage of men who leave the community is much higher that of women. Without enough men to go around, there are households of “bachelor sister,” who seemed quite content with their role in the community even though the Amish girl is lucky to attend school through the eighth grade. But we pick and choose the elements of our fantasy.
I could see Clyde getting a little nostalgic for the old days—growing up in Indian Country with even fewer of those conveniences—when chores were labor-intensive but straightforward and a horse was a damn good form of transportation. (We were told that Amish boys, having only recently been allowed to use horses for riding, now dream of being cowboys.) Time adds romance to the past, and simpler times start looking pretty good when the computer goes haywire and seven-year-olds have to have their own cell phones (but not in MY house). It’s all grist for the fiction mill, of course, and a commercial fiction writer takes note of what’s selling and looks a little deeper. What’s the real appeal, and how does it inform my story-telling?
The holidays are great for stirring up sweet nostalgia for the times we had and maybe the times we wish we had. We used to get an orange in the toe of our stocking. That was Mama being nostalgic for a time during the Depression when an orange was a rare treat. Now I look at the ad for the Barbie with the video camera embedded in her chest, and I cherish the memory of the baby doll that simply drank, wet, and squeaked. And I think, this is my job—and what a job it is—to bring those feeling to the fore for readers. Not sentimentality, but good feelings about the basics of life. That’s Romance.
Are we longing for simpler lives? What do you miss about simpler times? What innovation (besides the personal computer) came along in your lifetime that you wouldn’t want to live without? Is there a genie you’d like to put back in the bottle”? What part of your life would you like to simplify? What are you most nostalgic about this time of year?