Amity: Stories from the Heartland

By J. Brent Bill. Roundfire Books, 2023. 112 Pages. $11.95/paperback; $9.99/eBook.

Amity: Stories from the Heartland by J. Brent Bill is a delightful collection of short stories that embrace a positive and unpretentious view of life in the American Midwest. These ten fictional stories follow the same set of individuals and their families as they go about the daily business of living. They aren’t classic heroes or evil villains, just everyday folk—preachers, schoolboys, vets, and housewives.

Chronologically the book progresses from the depression of the 1930s to the countercultural generation of the ’60s and ’70s. Each story is a snapshot that can be enjoyed on its own. However, when the work is read as a whole, a wider perspective comes into view, one that captures both the small moments and the bigger picture, and illustrates how all those small moments string together to become an entire life. This book is about the man waiting in the car, yet again, while his wife gets ready. It’s mischievous boys modifying carol lyrics, and a woman’s stubborn desire to learn to drive. It is the story of neighbors, dinner on the table, the secret of the garage door, and rushing to beat a train. It is a tale of a vet’s regrets and the irony of a youthful preacher. It is about children growing and those grown. It explores what changes over a generation and what remains steadfast. And it coincidentally happens to begin and end in Amity, which is a real place in central Indiana with a population of less than 700.

A Quaker minister, retreat leader, and writing teacher, Bill lives on Ploughshares Farm in Mooresville, Ind. While most people might think their lives too dull or unworthy to record, this author proves that a good story doesn’t need to be one full of drugs, sex, and violence, like those so often glorified in current mainstream media. One story I was particularly drawn to, “The Sword of the Lord,” centers around a Sunday school competition of boys memorizing Bible verses. When an injustice occurs within the church, we see how one wrong deed can ultimately bring a family nearer to God and each other.

The candid characters, picturesque settings, and vibrant wit found throughout the collection result in deeply heartfelt and humorous tales that will resonate with readers of all kinds. These stories are not ones of whitewashed nostalgia but powerful pictures capturing the challenges and simple joys of daily life. Attention is drawn to the wonders in life without lavish embellishments, arriving at a core aspect of humanity that often goes unnoticed in today’s society—the importance of just being. I believe this type of understated writing is overdue for a revival. I hope others enjoy this book as much as I did.

Nichole Nettleton grew up telling stories to five younger siblings and is now a creative writing student at Southern New Hampshire University. She is a member of Ithaca (N.Y.) Meeting. She also facilitates the Differently Abled Friends and Allies for New York Yearly Meeting, for which she is currently seeking volunteers. Contact:

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