Levi’s Will (Novel)
Author: W. Dale Cramer
Publisher: Bethany House
Pub Date: June 2005
Will Times Three
Meet W. Dale Cramer! Here is an author who can write a novel with multiple complex themes, many-faceted characters, and page-turning great reading without confusing or irritating the reader. Levi’s Will is one of the best novels I have had the pleasure to read in a good long time. It would be a very good book to pass and discuss; great for any book club.
The novel spans two wars (WWII and Viet Nam) and forty years of William (Mullet) McGruder’s family relationships. The story is both plot driven and character driven in an intricate dance between the choices of the characters —especially Will and his father Levi—and the consequences that occur and the circumstances that come about because of the choices that they each make. The first chapter begins in 1985 as Will prepares to go home and bury his father, Levi. The chapters then trade back and forth amidst the forty year span between 1943 and 1985 as the story of Will and his families (the one left behind and the new one he begins) and his life—past and present—run parallel and finally converge into one again.
As a young man, Will runs away from home with his younger brother Tobe, to escape the suffocation of the Amish life he into which he has been born and brought up. In defiance of the social norms of Amishness, he runs away, leaves the girl he is expected to marry pregnant, changes his name, and begins a new life away from the legalistic beliefs of the Amish community, assuming that life is going to be a lot easier. So begins the journey of a tortured soul who seeks all his life to do nothing but return home, reconcile with his father, receive the forgiveness that he needs, and experience the full restoration that he desires.
Cramer does an insightful and informed job of giving the reader a glimpse inside the Amish community, writing as the son of a man whose father also left the Amish. The refreshing fact is that there is no feeling of emotional manipulation and no sense of judgment on the part of the author. He truly keeps his voice neutral so that the reader can think and decide what to do with the information. Cramer does the same in his presentation of both sides of the war issue—pacifism/conscientious objection or killing for what is believed to be a just cause.
Another encompassing theme of the book is the impact of generations upon each other. As Will matures and struggles with facing the issues of his life, he comes to realize that “every man’s failure dips its roots into the previous generation and drops its seeds into the next.” In the new life of lies that he has made, one of his own sons “pays him back” by being as good at pushing buttons with Will as Will was with his own father. Will finds (as many of us do when we become parents) that there is more of Levi in himself than he would like to admit and that he has attempted to paint his son, Riley, into the same corner he has felt backed into by his own father.
Amidst a myriad of sub-themes, there is also the broad issue of faith. Will goes through the full evolution belief in a salvation by following rules, to rebellion, doubt, and agnosticism and back to pretending to believe in God (even becoming a deacon in his church) and finally coming to understand a God of love, mercy, and forgiveness that he has never before experienced but who changes his life completely. He is guided gently on this journey by a savior-figure character named Jubal Bigfoot whom he meets in the army. Jubal is a hulking, Native American who never preaches to or at Will, but by the example of his life, shows Will who Jesus is and why Will needs him. Jubal is always there, always loyal, always faithful, a constant and consistent friend, and never a judge. He is also one of the few people in Will’s life who always tells him the truth.
Finally, not only is this book well written, the title itself tells three stories. It is the story of Levi’s Will—Will the son of Levi Mullet. It is the story of Levi’s will—the stubborn, demanding, crippling desire to bend Will to his life and his religion without concern for Will’s individual worth. And, finally it is the story of Levi’s will—the legacy that Levi leaves behind after he is gone that will filter into his family’s future and affect them for generations to come.