Monday, March 5, 2012
Book Review: The Defiance, Texas Trilogy
The Books: The Defiance, Texas trilogy(Daisy Chain, A Slow Burn, and Life in Defiance)
by Mary E. DeMuth, Zondervan, $14.99 each ($9.99 each on Kindle) (2009-2010)
In my reading, I enjoy both fiction and nonfiction. After reading several nonfiction books, I was in the mood for story. And the tale Mary E. DeMuth tells in her trilogy gives one a lot of meat to think and pray about, even if not for the faint of heart.
The books are set in 1970s Texas, and the first book opens with the disappearance of teenager Daisy Chance. Her disappearance and its resolution form a story that threads through all three books, and together, the three books show a picture of lives interwoven and seen through three different sets of eyes. The opening book focuses on Jed Pepper, Daisy's best friend, while the second delves deeply into the life of Daisy's mother, Emory Chance, and the third tells the story of Jed's mother, Louise (Ouisie).
Readers will see pretty quickly that Daisy's disappearance is not the only trouble in the small town of Defiance. This far from idyllic little town has residents who struggle with broken families, addictions, serious illness and violence. So many of the characters encountered in Defiance seem quite broken, but still there is hope. As I continued reading, I found myself sinking deeper into these books because I saw characters growing and changing, drawing ever closer to God. Many of the main characters in this series are deeply flawed, yet we get to see God using them in each others' lives, broken places and all.
In my fiction reading, I'll admit that I enjoy reading books about happy families or characters who model strong Christian values that I try to emulate. Most of my favorite fictional places look happier than the rough little Texas town DeMuth shows us. However, Defiance with its outcasts, adulterers, wife beaters, and secret drinkers brims over with the kinds of people who actively sought Christ and followed Him.
We see Jed Pepper struggle with his guilt over Daisy's disappearance and his frustration and anger with his father's temper and his mother's refusal to stand up to it. We see Emory Chance's battle with drug use and her seeking for God even as she fears His judgment. And then there is Ouisie - the pastor's wife with so many secrets, trying to figure out what to do with them and afraid to trust God.
These characters frustrated me, and yet as I saw them moved to faith in Christ, and saw their lives change as they believed and earnestly sought Him, their rough edges took on a sort of beauty. DeMuth does a wonderful job in this trilogy of showing how God's grace in people can change the path of their lives. She shows sin clearly enough to make us flinch, but then redemption that almost melts your heart. The characters in these novels would be lost in almost every sense of the word were it not for God's grace, and that conclusion is inescapable while reading.
Of the three books, I think the first two worked best for me. Daisy Chain because it set up the mystery so achingly well, and A Slow Burn because the path of Emory's redemption moved me so. Even though Emory's story doesn't really resolve until the last book, much of the action takes place in this middle volume. I still liked parts of Life in Defiance, but I did find it the weakest of the three. I think this is partly because Ouisie Pepper simply frustrated me as a character and while I tried to understand her, I also struggled with patience for some of her secrets and the way in which she allowed her children to be treated. In addition, her husband felt a little too much like a standard-issue villain and hypocrite, and I wish his character had been a little more nuanced.
Even so, the Defiance, Texas books are a rather thought-provoking and sometimes wrenching read. One note of warning, though: Many of the characters' struggles with sin are rather vividly portrayed, so some readers may find them upsetting, and these are definitely not books meant for children. However, DeMuth confronts often challenging issues of abuse and sin, and does a wonderful job of imbuing her character's struggles with grace and hope, so if you're looking for fiction with some meat to it, this trilogy would definitely go on that list.