Fiction Review: Plain Truth
I enjoyed Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult. I finished it a couple of months ago, when I was feeling very restless and impatient about everything going on in my life. At the time, I desperately needed fun books to read, but I was simultaneously having a lot of trouble finishing books.
This book pulled me the whole way through when other books were failing to: It was in a setting, the Amish communities, that had always interested me. It was competent enough dealing with that community to not drive me away. It made nuanced and smart enough points to keep me engaged, without being so subtle or so sophisticated as to be too heavy or dry or otherwise difficult to get through. All in all, the perfect balance for where I was just then.
This book juxtaposes two concepts that people wouldn’t normally associate with each other: the pacifistic, quaint, and well-respected Amish community; and the trend of young unwed mothers murdering their newborns, which was commonly discussed in the news at the time the book was written and which the author has discussed as inspiration.
The general theme of the book was that Amish people are just people. They’re not a monolith, and their culture, while it values conformity, doesn’t erase individual differences or interpersonal tension. The book managed to avoid the twin temptations of glorifying and fetishizing Amish culture on the one hand, and degrading it as cultish or criticizing it on the other. The differences are impactful but also nuanced and they’re morally complex.
There were a couple of minor details that got me, nerd as I am. Some of the Pennsylvania Dutch was misspelled, especially the name of the language which is Deitsch not Dietsch (pronounced with an “eye”-vowel). This made me laugh but didn’t detract from my enjoyment too much – though it did make me more aware that the Amish culture as depicted in the book was to a certain extent a fictional culture inspired by actual Amish culture rather than a documentation of it.
Another minor quibble: There was a scene where a judge wanted an Amish witness to swear an oath and they had to negotiate the accommodation of “affirmation” on the spot. “Affirmation” is a well-established accommodation for people who don’t swear oaths for religious regions; it used to be much more common, is in the US Constitution, and is talked about in law school. The judge wouldn’t have had to have it explained to them and the lawyer wouldn’t have had to come up with it on the spot. I do concede, however, that how the book did it was more interesting.
Like all Jodi Picoult books, it came with a twist at the end. I shan’t spoil it, but I will say that it was interesting, emotionally challenging, and resonated well and contributed to the previously-established themes.
All in all, a read that I enjoyed and needed at the time!
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