Title: Their Houses
Author: Meredith Sue Willis
Publication Date & Publisher: August 2018, WVU Press
Genre(s): General (Adult) Fiction
Length: 243 pages
My Rating: 4.0/5.0
As children, two sisters make homes for their toys out of matchboxes and shoeboxes, trying to create safe places after the loss of their mother to psychosis.
Grace, now a schoolteacher married to a doctor, appears to have a conventional life but has a breakdown during an undesired move from her beloved cottage to another house. Dinah has married a self-ordained preacher with a troubled past and tries to keep her children safely separate from the world. Meanwhile, a childhood friend is linked to a militia’s abortive attempt to blow up the FBI’s fingerprint records facility in West Virginia, and later builds an isolated survivalist compound in the mountains.
These three adults, closely bonded in childhood, are reunited on this acreage once owned by a white supremacist group, where they discover in various ways that there is no final protection, no matter how hard they strive to find it or make it.
Their Houses has one of the best openings I think I’ve read all year. By the end of the first page, I already had so many questions that needed answered I knew I’d be finishing it quickly!
The novel follows six different characters, but it really revolves around the main three – Richie and two sisters, Dinah and Grace. As children, Dinah and Grace’s father moved them into Richie’s parents’ carriage house in West Virginia, after the girls’ mother was put in a mental hospital for trying to kill them. We’re taken back and forth between the present and the past to discover how they all ended up where they are now – somehow all back in West Virginia together.
But it’s not coincidence that they scattered only to be reconnected…
Richie grew up with rich parents and became a rich, power hungry man. Picked on as a child, he feels the need to exert his power and control over everyone around him – whether they work for him or not. He sees himself as a sort of puppet master, masterminding not only his own life, but guiding others into positions that benefit him.
Dinah became pregnant with her daughter, Aleda, when she was still young. She’s now married to Raymond, a preacher seeking his new flock. Dinah fears Aleda will make all the same mistakes she did as a young girl and so she keeps her on a tight leash, not even allowing her to learn about her biological father.
Grace and her husband, David, are back in West Virginia because David wanted to practice medicine somewhere where he was truly needed. Grace should be the happiest of the three, but she’s suffering from depression and the constant paranoid fear that she’s actually just as psychotic as their mother was.
David and Raymond don’t see eye to eye on anything, and David’s need to prove Raymond’s faith is nothing more than childish belief in fairy tales, just about pushes him over the edge into the same level of crazy he fears his wife has crossed over to.
Personally, I think Dinah and Raymond said it best when it comes to the mental health of the characters in this novel:
“Maybe everyone is crazy if you scratch down half an inch. Me, Richie, Aleda. Everyone but you.”
He laughed. “Because I was crazy all the way through for a long time.”
There really isn’t a single “sane” character in the whole book and I love the way it kind of forces you to wrestle with your own version of sanity/acceptable behavior.
Their Houses is a thought provoking novel examining what it means to each of us to feel safe, and what we’re willing to do in order to get there. I definitely recommend picking up a copy!
I received a copy of this book from WVU Press. This in no way influenced my review.
What do you think of Their Houses? Have you read it or are you planning on reading it in the future? Have a suggestion for my next read? Leave me a comment below!