Leviís Will is a remarkable tale of one manís journey through life as he struggles to come to terms with his choices, his family, and himself.
In 1943, Will Mullet leaves his Amish family farm, craving excitement and to live in the real world. In 1985, Will McGruder returns to the area of his childhood to bury the father from whom he tried to gain acceptance for most of his life.
The story is told alternatively in the past and in the few days of 1985 where Will comes full circle back to his father, with whom he had such a difficult, life-changing relationship. In those few days, we see his own son facing the same alienation from his father.
Willís family is Amish, and Will knows as soon as he tastes the outside working for a non-Amish farmer that he has to escape. He heads off into the world knowing his stalwart, strict father will never forgive him, facing being banned from the Amish, and leaving behind a pregnant girl who will share his shame. The guilt he feels haunts Will as he tries to find his place in the world. Will seems determined to go against his traditions and his father with the ultimate betrayal to his Amish pacifist roots: he joins the Army.
He marries Helen and has two boys of his own. He fights a war and tries to be a good husband and father. Yet having lied about his background for so long and having tried to escape his past, Will does not know how to live a full and happy life.
He discovers he craves the forgiveness and acceptance of his father, despite knowing it will be a long, hard-fought battle. Willís life becomes a cycle of visiting his father and family, trying to fit in and gain an understanding of where he has come from then returning to his home life in Atlantam trying and failing his own family as his father has failed him. His relationship with his rebel son Riley is especially intense, perhaps even more difficult than the relationship with his own father as they must face each other on a regular basis. It is this difficult relationship which enables Will to truly begin to realize he cannot escape who he is and must find some peace with his father and himself. He realizes his fatherís mistakes are now becoming his own:
"He begins to see that every man's failure dips its roots into the previous generation and drops its seeds into the next."
W. Dale Cramer is the author of four books, Leviís Will being his third. While working in construction, Cramer wrote an article, inspired by problems on the site, that appeared in a business publication. His life as a writer was born, and he published his fist novel - Sutterís Cross, a Christian saga about a broken-down biker - and his second, Bad Ground, borrowed from his own experience as a construction electrician. His latest novel is Summer of Light.
It appears that, like many writers, Cramer is inspired to write about his own experiences, using his Christian beliefs, his construction background, and in this book his own Amish connection. He is the son of a runaway Amish man turned soldier, so it seems appropriate that Leviís Will would be based on Cramerís fatherís life, given the strong link between fathers and sons in this novel.
The books flows smoothly and slowly with no dramatic climaxes or twists but rather a well-told, deeply moving story. Leviís Will draws you in to the lives of the characters, enabling you to befriend Will and Helen, feel the unjustness of the War and Willís treatment by his father, and the understand the harshness of life on the land.
Cramer has brilliant skills bringing to life people and places representing war and strong religious belief without demonizing one and sugar-coating the other. The Amish community is respectfully and realistically portrayed. Gentle and peaceful they may be, but they are also human and capable of human weakness and feeling just like everyone else.
There are many messages that evolve with the characters. The relationships are the most important aspects of this novel with the happiness and sorrow they can bring - fathers and sons, husbands and wives, Amish and non-Amish, family ties. All are dealt with in a way that shows prejudices, unfair treatment, misunderstanding and miscommunications, yet the reality only highlights how powerful love can be.
This book is considered a Christian novel, and in all Cramerís works Christianity is highlighted and the search for God is paramount in the story. You do not have to be a Christian to enjoy this book, however, as the importance is one manís journey to find his own truth. Yet there is dissatisfaction for me with Willís final reasoning in this book.
What frustrated me about this book was what I saw as hypocrisy in the last part of the book. For more than three-quarters of this book I was entranced by Willís journey, hoping he would gain some peace. When he does, it is through his rediscovery of God. His God is not Amish or any other denomination, but rather just a God who loves him.
Will struggles with moral dilemmas and he comes through them a better person. Yet he chooses to thank God rather than seeing the strength has come from him. After he has accepted who he is and his life through a journey unique to him, he tells his son that his salvation will be through God instead of telling him he needs to make his own journey and be true to himself. After all that struggling and coming to terms, he turns around and says you can only be whole if you discover exactly what I have? Was not the point that each person has their own unique journey?
I do not mean to question the authorís own beliefs or even Willís beliefs, yet as poignant and well-written as this work is, the writerís choice to write a work of Christian fiction rather than just fiction actually detracts from the novel and the potential of the message within.