In a second Amish-themed novel, Moore (An Unseemly Wife, 2014) spins her grandfather’s journey West into the rich tale of a prodigal son.
In 1882, 21-year-old Joshua revisits his Amish homeland for the first time in 10 years. The sight of the inscription on his gravestone—“Beloved Boy, 1872”—plunges him back into memories of the horrific day when he was 11 and fought with his alcoholic father, Abraham, causing a candle to fall over and the barn to catch fire. Joshua went on the run, leaving his mother, Miriam, and four sisters to presume him dead. Joshua’s decadelong search for home and identity, which eventually leads him back to New Eden, Pennsylvania, takes him to unexpected places, like a saloon and a prospectors’ camp, where his companions include a bar wench and a circus bear. Along the way, he avoids a number of unsuitable romantic dalliances and finds a few surrogate mother figures. Consistent allusions to the Bible and other classical texts lend literary weight to Joshua’s journey. For instance, one of his longer stays is at the Baylors’ pig farm, reminiscent of the swine in Homer’s Odyssey; Joshua also likens urban Pittsburgh to both Gomorrah and an “inferno, Dante’s hell made flesh.” Scriptural and folksy vocabulary mix in interesting ways: “He felt the beam in his own eye as he cast about for the codger’s mote” and “How low the English had brought him, a fisher of garbage.” The novel carefully balances its storylines, with various chapters recording Miriam’s daily life as she tends Abraham’s severe burns, while descriptions of hearty meals, lambing, and milking chores add authentic period detail. It can be difficult to believe that entire years are passing, a fact Moore has to emphasize by frequently inserting the children’s ages. Still, the novel eschews moralizing clichés to tell a powerful story of exile and reintegration. Joshua—“part Lazarus, part prodigal”—proves to be a memorable, multifaceted protagonist.
An appealing Amish twist on a classic narrative.