[book review] the muir house: a novel

Written by Cara Sexton

A wife, mom, foster parent, writer, and Jesus girl, trying to live out loud with as much grace and gusto as I can. Visit me at WhimsySmitten.com

November 5, 2011

[serialposts]I’ve had the pleasure of reading Mary DeMuth’s work in the past, but only her memoir, Thin Places, which I found soul-bare in its honesty and strikingly poignant in its delivery.  I hadn’t yet been exposed to Mary’s fiction before reading The Muir House.

This novel tells the story of Willa Muir’s search to define home while on a quest to fill the missing gaps in her early childhood memory, believing that she cannot quite move forward in her life until she can connect the dots between the people and places of her past.

The book features a prominent cast of characters – all of them memorable, realistic, and likeable on some level, or relatable at the very least.  My biggest struggle with the book was with the main character, Willa.  Because of the narrow-focused pursuit of her memory’s lost pieces, she spends a great deal of time in a state that felt a bit like blind self-obsession.  While Willa is a likeable character, I was agitated during parts of the book, wishing she’d just get over herself already and notice the relationships she was neglecting.  I thought, a time or two while reading, that Willa’s cavernous emotional depth almost made her two-dimensional and shallow, full of unrealistic expectations and a woe-is-me sort of development to her.  I started out feeling sorry for Willa, but her navel-gazing upstaged the other characters in the book, leaving me wanting to know more about them.

Here’s where Mary DeMuth’s masterful story-weaving created a literary sleight of hand somewhere at the height of my irritation with the character.  Willa’s shifts between likeable ingénue, polite narcissist, and resilient woman painted deeper layers as the story unfolded, allowing me to empathize with Willa and ultimately winning my affection for not only Willa, but also Mary’s particular style of character development where characters cross stereotypical boundaries and become life-size off the page.

I chuckled when, after reading the book in its entirety, I discovered the interviews with Mary DeMuth posted here on BibleDude.net.  In the interviews, Mary admits to having similar reactions to Willa’s character – becoming frustrated with her character even during the writing process and having to “put up with her for a little while” while she stumbles through an obstacle course of growing in peace and grace.

Ultimately, I felt like The Muir House was a beautiful representation of Mary’s skill at creating a story we can all relate to – discovering who we really are when things aren’t what they seem, and casting her characters in a realistic portrayal, a mixture of good and bad, ugly and beautiful, lost and found.



  1. Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    It’s fascinating to think of the writer being frustrated with her own characters. It tells me something about the trust involved in the process of writing…enduring the aggravation to let the people in the story emerge as they will. 

  2. Mary DeMuth

    Thank you for your review! And, yes, Willa frustrated me because I just wanted her to get on with it! She just didn’t cooperate…at least not in my timing.


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[book review] the muir house: a novel

by Cara Sexton time to read: 2 min