July 10, 2012

Book Review: Hide in Plain Sight

I wrote "Reversal of Cultural Values in Modern Fiction" because the book I had just finished reading was no longer available in the Kindle store. My little rant on the state of modern fiction served as the best option for discussing the core of the many problems I'd found in reading that book. Even though writers tend to be somewhat monkish, they cannot be uninformed and still be good writers. Modern readers demand realism and the only way to achieve that realism is to walk out the front door from time to time and immerse yourself in the real world.

Well, today I finished another book: "Hide in Plain Sight", by Marta Perry. This title is currently available for free in the Kindle store and has been for quite some time. If you're staying at Hotel Indigo Newcastle this would be one of the thousands of free titles you could download onto the hotel Kindle and enjoy reading by the pool. I'll warn you ahead of time, however, doing so might have you buying a dozen more books by the same writer!

"Hide in Plain Sight" is a very well-written book. The main character is a woman named Andrea, a fast-talking, fast-moving executive at a top-flight financial firm who is called back to Amish country to help her family. Her sister Rachel has been hit by a car and broken both her legs. Rachel and the girls' grandmother, a steel-willed country matron named Katherine, have been working hard to transform the rambling family farmhouse into a bed and breakfast named, "The Three Sister's Inn." The third sister, Caroline, never directly appears in this story and I found myself wanting to meet her on its pages and learn what part her pattern plays in the family quilt.

The book is something of a country romance novel where the big city woman meets the aw shucks country boy and decides she prefers his down-home honesty to the slick, often deceptive gloss of city men. In this case the country boy is Calvin Burke. Tall and muscular as the role demands, he is also a carpenter who has rented the tack room and "new barn" for his business and workshop where he crafts and sells Amish-style furniture. We quickly learn that Calvin is a refugee lawyer from the fast-paced world of high-stakes legal defense who gave up the benefits of life in the fast lane when he discovered that one of his clients was far less stellar than he originally thought. Calvin is the first realization of the title metaphor and he is really the character that holds the metaphor throughout the story.

Ms. Perry is a skilled writer who weaves her prose with a deftness I have not seen since reading "The Crossroads Cafe" last October. It is nice to find another book by a writer who understands the power of clean prose, well-drawn characters, and a consistent pace. I find it ironic that two of the best written books I have recently had the pleasure of reading were both country romances. Times have certainly changed when the best written books are romances and the "serious literature" is mostly garbage with a hidden political agenda.

The story does take place in Amish country, so the Amish themselves are also prominent characters. The closest neighbors to The Three Sister's Inn are the Zook family, and the family matriarch, Emma, has cooked and kept house for Katherine throughout Andrea's life. Naturally Emma will also be working as the cook for the Inn after it opens. Ms. Perry's Amish characters are as unique and individual as her "English" characters. I was not expecting this when I opened the book for the first time and began reading. It was a very pleasant surprise to find Amish characters who were so realistically portrayed without any resort to stereotyping or cliche. Even though I have lived on the outskirts of Amish country for three years now, I have hesitated to read any novels featuring Amish characters for fear their portrayal would have more in common with Hollywood caricatures than the Amish people I interact with almost every single day of my life. This is icing on the cake, really, since the entire book is extraordinarily well-crafted.

Biblical allusions, scripture, personal prayer, and growing awareness of the role of God in daily life are a constant theme throughout the book. At the same time, the book never feels preachy or evangelical. God is part and parcel of the character's lives in the same way as in the lives of people out here in the real world. After the caustic attacks on religion, hypocritical preachers, and double-talking politicians of the last dozen or so books I've read, it was very refreshing to find a story where the presence of God is everywhere while at the same time it is never intrusive. God and faith are much more than props and metaphors for Andrea and the other characters. They are woven into the fabric of the reality in which they live.

I suppose I ought to spend some time on the plot. After all, there is a well-crafted story here with a realistic plot that unfolds with a quiet grace and just the right amount of suspense. At first, Andrea's main concern in her sister's welfare. Once she has learned that her sister will make a full recovery, she works to help Katherine and Emma get the Inn open in time for Memorial Day weekend. Along the way there are prowlers and vandals, someone hacks into the family computer and sends e-mail cancellations to the people who have reserved opening weekend, and Andrea learns the reason her grandmother and sister have been working so hard is that her grandmother is broke and has been advised to sell the family farm in order to have enough money to live on. The financial aspect, in keeping with Andrea's character, plays a leading role in this story which is quite unusual for a country romance.

"Hide in Plain Sight", by Marta Perry, is a breath of fresh air in a market filled with cynical attacks on country living and individualism. If you're tired of the crass disregard for humanity and condescending denial of individualism that forms the metaphoric core for books like "Fifty Shades of Gray" and "The Hunger Games", or better yet if you are smart enough to avoid such garbage altogether, then this is the book you'll want to read next.