Even before I read it, or heard much about it, I had very high expectations for Watching the Tree Limbs. The author, Mary DeMuth, also wrote what I think is one of the very best books to merge a heart for growing more like Christ and the real (and not easy) life of motherhood: Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God.
When I heard about her first novel being published, I couldn't wait to read it. If her novel was as full of honest struggle and desire in a Christian life as her nonfiction books have been, I knew that I was going to love it. One thing held me back a bit--the main character, Mara, was a nine year old girl who had suffered sexual abuse. Did I really want to spend my leisure time reading that?
I picked up the novel, and it was a quick read. I was being pulled in by the larger than life characters. Since the story is set in larger than life Texas, I had no problem accepting, or at least enjoying the effect of the larger than life characters. I cried as I read this book--first out of sadness for the evil in our world, but then sweet tears of empathy as Mara takes one step forward and one step back on her journey of healing.
Even after I started reading, I felt somewhat let down from my very high expectations. As I neared the end, and the pages turned faster and the tears flowed even more, I decided that a "disappointing read" certainly does not elicit such emotion and anticipation. As I neared the very last few pages, the similarities between Watching the Tree Limbs and my much-loved Mitford series became clear. I ached for this character to do what she needed to do to find peace. I wanted to know more about her life and her choices. I cared about her pain and her joys. Mary DeMuth writes in a very different style from Jan Karon of Mitford fame, including more introspection and less humor, but in addition to my connection with the characters, after I finished reading, there were recipes. Yes, recipes! Also like Mitford, I came to know the setting of Burl, Texas as almost an additional character.
Yes, it does deal with an unpleasant subject, but somehow it's told within the context of hope, and so instead of being depressing, it was simply enlightening, if sad. That part of the story is not explicit at all, and I wouldn't even call it the heart of the story. With that experience as a backdrop, this novel explores friendship, lonliness, love, mystery, faith, race and belonging, so each of us can see something of ourselves on these pages.
The good news is that in October, some of my questions about that girl and her life might be answered. I'm sure that I will laugh and cry some more as I get to know this character even better.
Wishing on Dandelions, Maranatha Series #2
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I linked this review to Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books. Each Saturday, you can post a formal review or thoughts about a book you've posted on your own site, or just click over there to read some other reviews each week.