Their Houses

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews | Adult Fiction - KAREN RIGBY

Mered­ith Sue Willis West Vir­ginia Univer­sity Press (AU­GUST) Soft­cover $19.99 (252pp) 978-1-946684-34-9

A fore­bod­ing tale of long­ing for so­lace ig­nites the ru­ral West Vir­ginia set­ting of Mered­ith Sue Willis’s Their Houses.

Di­nah and Grace are sis­ters whose child­hood was marked by their father’s al­co­holism and their mother’s psy­chosis. Now mar­ried with fam­i­lies of their own, they’ve found ways to sup­press their mem­o­ries. Di­nah an­chors her­self in de­vo­tion to her fire-and-brim­stone preacher of a hus­band, while Grace clings to the hope that Di­nah will make her home nearby.

Richie—an ail­ing child­hood com­pan­ion whose nar­cis­sism leads him to seek out Di­nah— com­pli­cates the plot with a bold plan laced with over-the-top mea­sures.

Al­ter­nat­ing per­spec­tives de­pict lives bound by fear and luck. Against the deca­dent back­drop of the es­tate that Richie, Di­nah, and Grace meet on, a friend­ship springs from Di­nah’s pity and is fanned by Richie’s de­vo­tion.

The heart­break­ing crux of the story rests in the gulf between what char­ac­ters want to be­lieve and what re­al­ity proves. Sus­pense builds through well-timed rev­e­la­tions.

Amid rash de­ci­sions made un­der the guise of love, Grace’s hus­band pro­vides an ef­fec­tive coun­ter­point to the other men and women in the book, who seem to act without con­sid­er­ing the harm they may in­flict. He’s the most grounded char­ac­ter: fully aware of Grace’s de­pres­sive episodes, at times be­wil­dered, and ul­ti­mately ra­tio­nal. Other high­lights in­clude Aleda, Di­nah’s el­dest daugh­ter, who is a bridge between Di­nah’s past and present, and whose cu­rios­ity opens a new path for her fam­ily.

Their Houses takes wild turns through even wilder land­scapes to ex­pose fa­mil­iar lone­li­ness. Richie’s need to ma­nip­u­late cir­cum­stances be­comes a can­vas for a sur­pris­ingly ten­der por­trait of the bonds that keep friends and fam­i­lies afloat.

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