Joe Mackallis author ofThe Last Street Before Cleveland and Plain Secrets- An Outsider Among the Amish. A professor of English and journalism at Ashland University, he is coeditor of the journalRiver Teethand has written for NPR'sMorning Edition, theWashington Post, and theCleveland Plain Dealer, among other publications. He lives near Cleveland, Ohio.
In an engaging personal memoir, Mackall, an Ohio-based writer and professor of English, describes the close-knit relationship he has cultivated over more than a decade with a neighboring Amish family. This is neither an expose nor an outsider's fanciful romanticization of the Amish. By focusing on the loves and losses of one large Amish clan, Mackall breathes life into a complex group often idealized or caricatured. He refers, for example, not to "the Amish" writ large, but instead to "the Swartzentruber Amish I know," describing in some detail the tremendous differences between the Swartzentrubers, by far the most traditional sect, and the Old Order, New Order, Beachy and other Amish groups. The Swartzentrubers not only eschew electricity but also padded or upholstered chairs, souped-up buggies, indoor plumbing, the tradition of rumspringa (a running-around period for some Amish teens) and--perhaps most important for this narrative--contact with "the English." Mackall's is the first book to venture behind-the-scenes of this most conservative Amish group. At times Mackall is critical of the Swartzentruber way of life (such as when an eight-year-old girl dies in a buggy accident because the sect rejects safety measures for buggies), but it is a deeply respectful account that never veers toward sensationalism. (June) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Prose as graceful as it is unsentimental . . . Mackall doesn't sensationalize, romanticize, or condescend. --Brigid Brett, Los Angeles Times
"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 "Wonderful and enlightening . . . a loving portrait, warts and all, of an often misunderstood people."--Booklist, starred review "An engaging personal memoir . . . neither an expose nor an outsider's fanciful romanticization of the Amish. By focusing on the loves and losses of one large Amish clan, Mackall breathes life into a complex group often idealized or caricatured."--Publishers Weekly "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 "Plain Secrets is a moving exploration of a little-known world and friendship across a cultural divide."--Boston GlobeOff the Shelf column "Mackall explores this paradox with rare honesty and insight . . . Another strength of the book is that while maintaining a personal narrative voice, Mackall folds in a succinct and engaging history of the Anabaptist religious tradition and the polity of the Amish church. This added context greatly enhances the more personal stories."--Boston Globe "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 "Mackall describes the details of family, farming and church life with sympathy, accuracy and good will... His particularistic description of one family is a welcome addition to what had often been a sociological literature." --Christian Century ." . . he writes with a forthright precision."--Akron Beacon Journal "The book points to a difficult truth: A religious community is bound to be freed. Mackall explores this paradox with rare honesty and insight . . . [and] achieves what he promises."--Tom Montgomery-Fate, Boston Globe