Life In Defiance, by Mary E. DeMuth

The doors slam in the unshaken universe that is my dear Lake Pisgah. Metal against metal is dissonant against birds chirping their songs to welcome springtime around the bend. It’s a pleasant day with the sun warming our heads as we walk toward the shoreline. I hear our feet crunch against brittle grass, Emory’s steady humming, and a hint of wind through still-bereft trees.  In the light of the beauty beckoning me, I push down my fear… [pg. 213]

Exuding rare poetry, well-crafted words and a story that winds deeper and more fully into the pained hearts of desperate men and women, Mary DeMuth delivers the final book in her Defiance Texas Trilogy published by Zondervan. Set against the backdrop of a small town reeling from disappearance and murder of young Daisy Chance, Life In Defiance is relayed from the perspective of Ousie Pepper, the pastor’s wife who ekes out an utterly defeated existence under the crushing fist of her husband.

Certain she knows the identity of Daisy’s killer, Ousie moves through her days caged in secrets: the “gleaming” pastor beats and belittles her, twisting Scripture for his own benefit; the mysterious killer is on the loose while she ferrets away clues to “protect” others; her penchant for alcohol squeezes more tightly and she eagerly gives in–anything to dull the torment of life with Hap Pepper.  Ousie has relinquished herself and supplanted a woman who feels little except the sting of her own shortcomings.

Like familiar faces gathered around a table, the cast of characters is one we know and understand well from Books 1 & 2. Old friends become pulsing lifelines to Ousie and those once dismissed are afforded a fresh glance.  Life In Defiance builds on Mary’s expert character shaping by introducing us to new folks that blow into this Texas town like Tumbleweed: coming and going softly, but leaving indelible footprints in the life of Ousie Pepper.   It explores elements of trust and disappointment; it follows the human heart to the end of itself and asks the questions, “Is this all there is?  Will I ever be good enough?  Do I matter?  Am I lovable?”

With strong thematic elements of domestic violence and references to sexual and substance abuse, this book is raw and gritty and real. As an outsider looking in, I was thoroughly frustrated with Ousie’s mental gymnastics that sought to justify the behavior and hypocrisy of her husband.  I pray that women living this kind of tortured reality would see Hap’s evil in full color and abide Emory’s suggestion to “make a plan” rather than listening to well-meaning but ignorant people who reinvent Christian submission to mean that under the husband’s authority anything goes. Certainly abuse is not what Christ intended for any of us.

While I was left wishing for greater resolution between Ousie and her son Jed, in particular, all-in-all I found the story to neatly wrap up loose ends, finally revealing the killer lurking in Defiance.  I applaud Mary’s use of broken, imperfect characters and her ability to peel back the layers so that we readers can see our own reflections, however dim, staring back from stark pages.  She writes without pretense [much unlike new character Sheba Nelson] unveiling wrinkles and cracks and muddy pasts to the Glory of God.

Thank you to Mary for another wonderful installment of quality fiction and for reminding us that in Defiance–and in our towns–no life is wasted, and no body is beyond the grasp of our loving Savior.

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