Plain Secrets: An Outsider Among the Amish

Front Cover
Beacon Press, 2007 - Biography & Autobiography - 208 pages
10 Reviews
Joe Mackall has lived surrounded by the Swartzentruber Amish community of Ashland County, Ohio, for over sixteen years. The Swartzentrubers live without gas, electricity, or indoor plumbing; without lights on their buggies or cushioned chairs in their homes; and without rumspringa, the recently popularized “running-around time” that some Amish sects allow their sixteen-year-olds.

Over the years, Mackall has developed a steady relationship with the Shetler family (Samuel and Mary, their nine children, and their extended family). Plain Secrets tells the Shetlers’ story over these years, using their lives to paint a portrait of Swartzentruber Amish life and mores. During this time, Samuel’s nephew rejects the Amish way of life; his bright young daughter reaches the end of school for Amish children; and Samuel faces difficulties in his new role as a church leader.

These and other stories from the life of the family reveal the larger questions posed by the Amish way of life. If the continued existence of the Amish in the midst of modern society asks us to consider the appeal of traditional, highly restrictive, and gendered religious communities, it also asks how we romanticize or condemn these communities—and why.

“In simple but elegant prose that matches the values of his subject, Joe Mackall takes us deep into the Amish community. He neither romanticizes nor condemns an alternate way of living, but provides stunning insight through the generosity and compassion of his own heart.” —Chris Offutt, author of The Same River Twice and Kentucky Straight

“Joe Mackall's Plain Secrets: An Outsider Among The Amish meets the biggest challenge of a book such as this by living up to his subtitle: Mackall is both outside and among in equal measure, and it's the most difficult terrain to occupy. Plain Secrets vibrates in that in-betweenness, in ways that only songs or poems usually can, and it does so in prose that's as clear as water. It’s built the way the Amish build their barns—everything here is plumb and level.” —Diana Hume George, author of The Lonely Other: A Woman Watching America

“Joe Mackall's patience, empathy, and dogged curiosity illuminate this fine, fascinating study of an elusive culture. Plain Secrets is a provocative, humbling, and soulful book.” —Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of Lincoln’s Melancholy

“…Mackall does the job beautifully, painting an intimate portrait of the family that leaves the reader feeling humbled by the common thread that’s woven into all of us.” —Sarah English, Cleveland Magazine

“Mackall's writing is an honest and refreshing change from the customary saccharin scribbling about the Noble Amish Man. Despite, or perhaps because of, Mackall's refusal to perch the Amish on a pedestal, he manages to convey a deep respect for the people.” —Lancaster New Era

“. . . he writes with a forthright precision.” —Akron Beacon Journal

Joe Mackall is author of The Last Street Before Cleveland. A professor of English and journalism at Ashland University, he is coeditor of the journal River Teeth and has written for NPR’s Morning Edition, the Washington Post, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, among other publications. He lives near Cleveland, Ohio.
 

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - trishrope - LibraryThing

Joe Mackall has written a personal account of the Swartzentruber Amish based on his friendship with a particular family, the Shetlers, who belong to this type of Amish group. Mackall tries to be ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - briandrewz - LibraryThing

Pretty balanced account of an Amish family living next door to a non-Amish. Also tells the story of a young Amish man who left the order and is trying to make a life for himself among the English. Interesting book. Read full review

Contents

one Pop Cans and Doomed Pigs
19
three Remembering Sarah
39
four You be careful out among them English
57
seven The Lot Falls
107
eight TheAmishFBI
129
nine Time and Space
147
eleven Another Leaving
187
twelve The World Inside and Out
201
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About the author (2007)

Joe Mackall is author of The Last Street Before Cleveland. A professor of English and journalism at Ashland University, he is coeditor of the journal River Teeth and has written for NPR's Morning Edition, the Washington Post, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, among other publications. He lives near Cleveland, Ohio.

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