I always have at least three books going at once – often more. I have books I read in preparation for interviewing authors on IAM Conversations, books that teach me about theology and sociology for my work with Christianity Today magazine’s This Is Our City project, books on the arts that inform my work at International Arts Movement, and devotional books that stir my heart further up and further in as I pursue a vibrant and fruitful relationship with God.
But the only kind of book I read at night, besides the Bible, are novels. At the end of the day, when my work is finished, nothing is more fun for me than to curl up in bed with an engaging story that is interesting and well-written, but not so heady that I need to work hard to follow. And most recently, the book that has accompanied me to bed is Mary DeMuth‘s The Muir House.
The Muir House is the tale of Willa Muir, a winsome yet flawed heroine embarking on the journey of a lifetime as she seeks to solve the mystery of her past. A functional orphan (her mother is alive, but the relationship is broken), Willa has baggage, to be sure, and readers who have unresolved bitterness toward a parent will identify with her struggles – perhaps cathartically so. As Providence forces Willa to revisit her childhood home and confront her demons once and for all, we bear with her through her moments of foolishness and self-sabotaging behavior, and we rejoice as she begins to move into a new season, made possible only by the painful work of facing her past and staring it in the eyes.
The requisite characters of a good story are present, including not one, but two leading men, a quirky girlfriend, a kindly older gentleman who pops in as a kind of angel-in-disguise, and an antagonist in the form of a hostile, stubborn woman who seems hell-bent on thwarting Willa’s plans. Each character is well-developed and interesting, and together, they tell a story that I found to be at times frustrating (as I wanted to get the mystery solved), at times inspiring, and ultimately redemptive.
Set alternately in Seattle (my hometown since March of this year) and Rockwall, Texas, DeMuth does a great job of capturing a sense of each place. Her Seattle references all struck me as authentic, from the coffee shops to hiking at the base of Mount Rainier. By the same token, her descriptions of Rockwall, Texas are likewise organic, thanks no doubt to the fact that DeMuth actually lives in that town. As a reader who loves stories that allow me to get a true sense of place, whether that be Hollywood or the Deep South, I appreciated her attention to detail in this respect.
There were points in the beginning of the book when I wished the story moved forward more quickly. In truth, the story did not draw me in immediately. DeMuth is very gifted with words, and in The Muir House, the language sometimes felt laboriously flowery. There were a few times when I wished the story would move along, rather than spending quite so much time on descriptions. However, these small complaints were all but forgotten during the book’s second act, when the story really picked up momentum as the characters become more developed and the clues began to fall into place.
The book, published by Zondervan, will certainly appeal mostly to women who are Christians (no doubt the intended audience). With its many references to prayer, Jesus, and Christian devotion, non-Christian readers might find these elements contrived or odd. But for those of us who live in that world, DeMuth presents a very believable character wrestling with not only her past, but with the God who put her there. Through the letters (and blog posts – a creative device, I thought) exchanged between Willa and her would-be fiancé, we witness a character who is honestly seeking truth, in both literal/historical and spiritual senses.
There are some surprises in this book, which is one of the highest compliments I can pay it; I am usually hard to surprise, and that element is one of my favorite traits in a story. The journey is worth following, and the book is worth reading. If you are looking for Christmas gift ideas to give a woman in your life who loves to read feel-good novels with hopeful and redemptive outcomes, I recommend The Muir House by Mary DeMuth, which may be ordered here.
Read what others are saying about The Muir House! Leanne Penny reviewed it yesterday, and tomorrow, Tara Rodden Robinson will share her review as well. We’re part of a twenty-two-blog book tour, an innovative new way to review and discuss new books.