W. Dale Cramer,
Levi's Will
(Bethany House, 2005)

In 1985, 60-year-old Will McGruder gets the sad news that his elderly father has passed away, and Will heads to Apple Creek, Ohio, for the funeral, accompanied by Riley, his 35-year-old son. There, Will begins to re-examine his past, his relationships, his values and his life.

In 1943, 19-year-old Will Mullett decides he cannot stay with his rigid, dogmatic, Old Order Amish family, and heads out to face the evil, the challenges, the complexity, diversity and beauty of the world.

Will McGruder is Will Mullett.

W. Dale Cramer has given us a wondrous gift of prose in this introspective fictional biography. Adeptly shifting back and forth between two timelines (the days between Will's father's death and Will's father's funeral, and the decades between Will's departure from home and his father's death), we get to ride along as Will ponders such weighty issues as the meaning of life, differences between rituals and relationships, differences between religion, faith, beliefs and values, the tendency for people to parent their own children differently from how they were raised (despite vowing to do otherwise) and how to live with, and grow beyond, one's own mistakes. Cramer has created a realistic protagonist who is truly three-dimensional in this character study of a character worthy of study.

The writing in Levi's Will flows evenly and deeply. In Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, Card cites the late Octavia Butler as a prime example of an author who loaded every line with meaning. Cramer has gone a step further, in a way, as even the title "Levi's Will" has many different meanings, all of which gradually emerge throughout this rich tale of humanity, grief, tragedy, triumph and love.

Chapter 36 deserves special mention, as it is both a turning point for the protagonist and a wonderful essay on the meaning of life, love and belief. All of the bits and pieces of wisdom encountered by Will McGruder/Mullett coalesce into an epiphany that changes his world view, and the reader gets to join that moment of wonder. Cramer manages to do this with finesse, and it really gives readers a chance to re-examine their own beliefs and values, without feeling that the author is preaching or dictating the "right" answers.

In some ways, I am startled that I enjoyed this book. While I have always held strong moral and spiritual beliefs, I long ago turned away from organized religion, because of the rigid dogma and ritual I'd encountered. From reading the description and reviews of this book, one might get the impression that religion is the focus of the story. I see it differently. Religion is the context of Levi's Will, but its focus is really on the beliefs, values, ethics and morality that are supposed to be the true messages of religion. I think there is much that is of value in Levi's Will for the Christian, and for anyone of any other religion, as well as for agnostics and even atheists. At its root, Levi's Will is a tale, well told, about values and the power of love.

by Chris McCallister
20 May 2006

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