In her "Defiance, Texas" trilogy, Mary DeMuth explores the dark secrets of a small town in the 1970s.
The first two books, Daisy Chain and A Slow Burn, dealt with the kidnapping and murder of a young girl, and the effect on the people who loved her, especially her best friend, Jed, and her mother, Emory.
The third book in the trilogy, Life in Defiance (read an excerpt), comes out today. It finally gives us the answers we’ve been waiting for about Daisy Chance’s mysterious disappearance. But its main focus is on Ouisie Pepper, mother of Jed and his sister Sissy, and longsuffering wife of Hap, a minister who puts on a good show in public but abuses his family in private.
Recently I spoke with Mary about the trilogy, and about her writing plans for the future.
You wrote in your previous book, Thin Places, about being an abuse victim as a child, but in this particular story you focus on a battered wife experiencing a different kind of abuse. How hard was it to get into Ouisie’s head and show what this was like for her?
Very hard, as it wasn’t and isn’t my experience at all. But my husband and I have had opportunities to discern and help battered wives on different occasions, and I’ve been friends with women in this situation. I realized how hard-pressed these women were, how confused. Especially if they found themselves attending church. What is the godly thing to do? Submit to the abuse? Fight back? Leave? Take it? Hope for the best? Pray harder? Some of the well-meaning advice given just adds to the confusion. So I tried my best to crawl into that confusion, to give a battered wife a face, a heart, a soul. Ouisie sprang from that desire. She’s not perfect. She has some culpability. And she struggles through trying to figure out how to be.
Ouisie is under no illusions about Hap’s character, and has little real respect for him, and yet she keeps blaming herself for the abuse anyway. Do you think this is a common mindset among those who are abused? Why would someone feel this way?
Again, since I’m not a sufferer from domestic abuse, I can’t say this from personal experience. But I do know there is a huge dichotomy going on in a battered woman’s mind. I’ve known women who detail their husband’s deeds in not-so-glowing terms, and yet somehow believe if they could just do things better, he wouldn’t act that way. So there’s blame toward the husband and a deep blame toward themselves. It may not be logical, but it happens.
Some women may also feel awful because they may have grown up in an abusive situation and made a vow never to marry into one, only to find themselves right smack in the middle of their childhood again. The blame, in that instance, is focused inward with words like, “Why didn’t I see it? Why did I marry someone like that?”
I also think there’s a great deal of shame involved, particularly if the family attends church. They may look amazing and successful on the outside, but behind closed doors life is miserable. I’ve met a family like that before, where they appeared to be model Christian citizens, only to find it was all a façade.
Your satire of Christian books on marriage is one of the best parts of the story, I think. And I noticed that a book also served as a turning point in Hap’s life, when he started to change in some ways after reading a book that inspired him to become a pastor. Is the book that Hap read based on any real Christian book or set of teachings? (You don’t have to be too specific if you’d rather not!) And was this a coincidence, or were you trying to say something about how we Christians need to be a little more careful about the “self-help” advice that we give?
No, it’s fictitious. But the interesting thing I’ve found is that books really read us, don’t they? The same book can inspire greatness in one and selfishness in another. It all boils down to heart. Something in Hap’s heart resonated with doing something bigger than himself. Unfortunately, that morphed into building his own controlled kingdom. As for the marriage book, it’s actually based on one I found at a garage sale, written exactly within the time period the Defiance series is set in.
Ouisie’s friend Emory, a brand-new Christian, gives her much better advice than Sheba and Emily, who have been Christians for a long time. Why do you think this is?
Here’s an irony I’ve found as I’ve walked with Jesus. Age or years you’ve followed Jesus matters very little. What matters is your heart and your dogged determination to run after Jesus. I’ve met 80-year-old Christians who are bitter and brittle and hardened. They’ve been walking with Jesus for seven decades but somehow none of Jesus has rubbed off. Then there are new followers who are so enamored with Jesus that He oozes from them. The key for us is to never get complacent, to treat Jesus as a comfortable friend. He is irresistible. He’s beautiful. He’s everything we need. That should compel us to hit our knees daily, asking Him to change us from the inside out. I want to be an 80-year-old someday whose eyes are full of Jesus-sparkle.
In some areas, Emory and Sheba give similar-sounding advice on the surface—for instance, in the Bible study where they both talk about answers to prayer—and yet underneath, something is very different. Without going into the obvious (for fear of giving away spoilers), what do you think the difference is?
Some folks say things they’ve heard before. They’ve bought into platitude Christianity. They’ll hear something that sounds cool, then repeat it. It’s not connected to real life experience; it’s simply advice or a tidbit they’re passing on. On the other hand, when we experience Jesus in the deep places, when we see Him answering a very specific prayer in a surprising way, we can’t help but share that with others. When it’s connected to real life, it’s authentic.
At one point, Emory shows how the teaching about submission in marriage has been taught by itself, without any balance or context from the rest of the chapter. Do you see a lot of this happening in the church, and do you think it commonly leads to abuse? Or are the causes of abuse in the church more complex than that?
Abuse is a hugely complex issue, but at its root is this: folks don’t run after healing. Those who abuse were (typically) abused. They’re broken, and in their brokenness, they break people. Enter Jesus. He offers healing. He asked the paralytic these important words: “Do you want to get well?” So many of us who have issues from our past ignore the question. We resign ourselves to living the way we always have, either abusing others or abusing ourselves. I was one who heaped abuse on myself for years. Only now am I seeing how devastating that’s been for me. So I’m revisiting Jesus’ question. I want to get well. Not just for my sake, but more so for my children and husband’s sake.
In terms of submission, that’s such a painful word. But I do like that when Jesus invigorates a person, she wants to consider others better than herself. She wants to submit first to God, then to the needs of others. She wants to love others as Jesus loved us. All that stems, though, from a deep sense of healing and worth. One of the questions married people can ask themselves is this: “Am I less selfish this year than last year?” If the answer is no, then it’s time to consider that maybe we’re not submitting to Jesus first in everything.
I know the series has been called a trilogy, but now that we’ve heard from three different characters in Defiance, I find myself wishing we could hear from more of them! Would you ever consider writing another book from, say, Sissy’s point of view, or maybe even Hap’s, or another character’s?
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