Now Reading
Read an extract from The Minuscule Mansion of Myra Malone by Audrey Burges

Read an extract from The Minuscule Mansion of Myra Malone by Audrey Burges

From her attic in the Arizona mountains, thirty-four year-old recluse Myra Malone blogs about a miniature mansion – a dolls’ house – which captivates thousands of readers worldwide. Myra herself is tethered to the Mansion by a strange magic she can’t understand – there are rooms that appear and disappear overnight, music that plays in its corridors.

Across the country, Alex Rakes, the thirty-four year-old heir of a furniture business, encounters two Mansion fans trying to recreate a room from her stories. Alex is shocked to recognize his own bedroom in minute scale.

The Mansion is his family’s home, handed down from the grandmother who disappeared mysteriously when Alex was a child. Searching for answers, Alex begins corresponding with Myra. Together, the two unwind the lonely paths of their twin worlds – big and small – and trace the stories that entwine them, setting the stage for a meeting rooted in loss, but defined by love.


• 1 •

An Unpredictable Place to Start

(From The Minuscule Mansion of Myra Malone, 2015)


Now, before you read any further, stop a moment. Take a deep breath, if you’re into that sort of thing, and think. I want you to visit the place that popped into your head when you read those words, because they opened almost every story I ever heard as a child, and if you’re going to spend some time here with the Minuscule Mansion, those words are as good a place as any to get started. Once upon a time, there was a house.

What kind of a house do you see when you close your eyes? How many rooms are in it, and what’s inside them? If you could live there, where would you sleep, what color would your guest towels be, and how would you take your tea? What music would echo against the walls? Is it coming from a fancy stereo, or an old Victrola?

If you’re a fairy-tale kind of person, maybe you’ve conjured up a stone cottage with a narrow, arched front door—you’d have to duck down so you wouldn’t hit your head on the wooden frame, and if you look carefully, maybe you’ll see a gentle depression at the top of the curved timber where countless visitors have done just that. Maybe that’s why there’s a friendly, tufted ottoman right by the entry, so you can plop right down and rub your noggin for a bit while you look around.

Or maybe fairy tales aren’t your thing. That’s fine. My friend Gwen isn’t a sparkles-and-gingerbread kind of person, either, and the house in her head is a glass beachfront affair, all sleek surfaces and light, like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude with considerably more Prada and pool boys. Also, she has a pet dolphin for some reason? Just go with it. Everyone gets to imagine their own walls, and the wonders they hold, without having to think about how well dolphin poop dry-cleans out of Italian leather. (No, I don’t know why she lets the dolphin on the couch, either, but I’m not here to judge.)

Anyway. Whatever your house is—wherever you’d dream of spending your own once-upon-a-time—it’s yours because you make it that way. You get to pick out the furniture and the artwork, the cans stacked in the cabinets, the knobs you use to open them, because it’s your imagination, and that’s your only limit.

It’s mine, too, except I get to do something else: I get to make mine real.

I suppose some people have that ability, too—endless money and time to make their dreams take shape—but I don’thave that. What I do have is a minuscule house that is also very, very large. A mansion, in fact. The Mansion. (It gets irate when I don’t capitalize.) And the Mansion is a canvas for a very particular kind of art. It’s a gallery of tiny dreams—some my own, some inherited, some generously shared with me by friends and family and people like you. And I get to use those dreams to populate an entire world. I can make a little bathroom with a seafoam claw-foot tub, or a bedroom with itty-bitty roses sprigged on every surface. If I can’t find the right china cabinet for the dining room, I can make what I want to see, because the ones who taught me—my grampa Lou and his wife, Trixie—handed down every bit of their skill in woodworking, painting, sculpting, and sewing, and what they didn’t teach, I’ve taught myself. I know what gemstones look like water and what pen can draw the most convincing chain stitch on a washcloth that’s too small to sew. I can be eclectic or traditional, modern or romantic, and the Mansion absorbs those dreams into its walls.

I wasn’t sure whether, or how, to share them with anyone else. But I’m willing to give it a try.

• 2 •


This teapot wants to be part of the room, but it can never really belong.

Myra stopped typing and watched the cursor blinking back at her, waiting for her next insight. Every word was curated and every letter was hot pink. When she closed her eyes, she could see faces staring back at thousands of screens, longing to set foot into the tiny room. She stepped away from her desk and crouched in front of the Minuscule Mansion on its wide platform in the cabin’s attic, peering into the diminutive library at the rear of the house. She reached tentative fingers toward the teapot with its painted porcelain daisies and pushed a silver tray underneath it, trying to make it seem less incongruous with the library’s fireplace. She set two rocking chairs on either side of the painted flames.

It was wrong. It was all wrong. Worse, it was far beneath her standards.

“This one doesn’t work.” She rocked back on her knees and stared at the room. “I’ll give it a minute, but I don’t think I’m going to change my mind.”

Gwen looked up from her own laptop without missing a keystroke, her face studiously neutral. Myra could tell she was trying not to roll her eyes. “You’ve been working on the library for how many weeks now? How long do you think you’re going to be able to enthrall them with Nancy Drew and the Case of Where the Hell Should I Put this Teapot?

“You said I need to use it. This was your idea, not mine.” Myra’s work on the library was, like all things in the Mansion, entirely for herself. But her stories, her photographs, and her intricate curation of the house absorbed the attention of her followers—first hundreds, then thousands, then (how?) hundreds of thousands—who anxiously awaited each new posting from The Minuscule Mansion of Myra Malone. The site had been Gwen’s idea, and when the miniatures started showing up on Myra’s doorstep a few weeks after it went live, Myra’s shock had given way to discomfort. The Mansion belonged to her. She had not invited visitors. But Gwen checked the packages each weekend, gleefully updating the Mansion’s social media accounts with effusive thank-yous for whatever tiny porcelain clown or small set of matching brass andirons had arrived unbidden in that week’s mail.

“I said you needed to try to use something someone sends you,” Gwen said. “As an experiment. You don’t need to use everything—you shouldn’t, actually, because the more exclusive you are, the more they’ll try to get in. It’ll increase traffic.”

“I’m going to put things back the way they were. This isn’t going to work.”

Gwen plopped her laptop down on the attic’s wide floorboards. “Far be it from me to second-guess the great Myra Malone, but let me check something.” She stood, strode to Myra’s side, and snatched the teapot from the Mansion, scrutinizing its delicate porcelain in her palm.

“Really?” Myra looked up with relief. It was rare for Gwen to grasp the seriousness of these decisions.

“Yep. It’s just a goddamn teapot, not an ancient Mayan talisman you’ve got to place just right or be crushed by a giantstone boulder. It’s a shame. You’ve been pushing it around for twenty minutes, so it kinda got my hopes up that it might be something important.”

“No one’s making you stay here, you know. You could head on back to your office, Gwen, and leave me to work.”

“I love you, too, Myra.” Gwen stuck out her tongue and was instantly seven years old again and teasing her childhood friend, despite the fact they were both thirty-four. “And it’s Saturday. Saturday is always our site-updating day. Don’t forget The Minuscule Mansion is an investment for me, too—I’m still counting on it being something big. Pun absolutely intended.” She scooped up a tiny rocking horse from its corner of the library, releasing it to sway back and forth on the palm of her hand in time to the pensive motion of her head. The chipped paint of its red saddle caught the light as Gwen weighed and rejected ideas without ever speaking aloud. Watching Gwen think was like watching a spectator of a tennis game that no one else could see. “You could auction space, you know. Sell spots in the Mansion. Whole rooms that people could decorate.” She gasped. “An essay contest!”

“No.” Myra didn’t feel the need to elaborate. She took the rocking horse from Gwen’s hand and put it back in its corner of the library.

“Please be careful,” she said. “I made that horse with Trixie and Grampa.”

Gwen scowled, more at the rejection of her brilliant idea than the rocking horse reprimand. She was a planner. No small idea was safe from her efforts to expand it; vast multimedia empires structured themselves in her head. Myra wished, sometimes, that she’d never even shown Gwen the Mansion. But that would have meant going back decades, back when they were both seven and Gwen shoved her way into Myra’s attic after she moved into the neighborhood and announced they were going to be best friends forever.

At the time, Myra hadn’t left her house in close to eighteen months. When the hospital finally discharged her, she was five and a half years old. She had spent half a year clinging to life, and when she clawed her way back into the waking world, she discovered its every detail dwarfed and terrified her. It was too big. Only the cabin felt safe. It was safe because her grandfather, Grampa Lou, had slotted its beams and walls together himself long before she was born, imbuing the structure with the sense of calm he always inspired. It was safe because its attic sheltered the Mansion, which had belonged to Trixie—Grampa’s wife—before the accident that killed her and nearly killed Myra. It was safe because the Mansion sheltered Myra’s soul in ways she couldn’t explain, giving her new worlds to explore—on a more manageable scale—and then whisking those worlds away, a secret between Myra and the house.

Myra defined the boundaries of her life by the walls around it. She remained as closed off as the Mansion itself, hinged shut within her own body. Her only friendship existed because Gwen created it with sheer force of will—and a lack of other available options—as she barreled up the attic stairs from grade school, then college, and then graduate school to find Myra exactly where she’d left her: indoors, upstairs, decorating rooms no one else saw. Until finally, six months ago, Gwen stamped her foot and insisted the Mansion was too beautiful not to share with the outside world, tossing Myra’s latest printout of a story into the air with frustration and yelling that it was time to let the hundreds of pages of prose live somewhere people could see them. If you won’t share yourself, then at least share your work. Share the stories about your work. Let the world come to you.

It was too late now to rescind the invitation—Gwen’s, certainly, to say nothing of the legions of virtual visitors she’dattracted. Now, Myra had this teapot—hundreds of teapots, in fact, in different sizes and designs. Boxes and bags overflowing with teapots, coffeepots, chocolate pots, even a couple of itsy-bitsy brass samovars. All vying for a spot in the Mansion. Myra absently grasped the stone acorn charm around her neck, moving it back and forth on its chain as she gazed at the library again. Volumes of Plath and Baudelaire sat on its stained cherry shelves, waiting for high tea to be laid before the marble fireplace with its cheerful painted flames.

This teapot wants to be part of the room, but it can never really belong.

Myra knew exactly how the teapot felt.

She tucked it back in its packaging and brushed her hands down the front of her slacks, removing the last traces of the outside world from her skin. Below her, in parts of the cabin she avoided, precarious stacks of unopened boxes and crates leaned against every wall, narrowing hallways and shrinking rooms. And below that, hidden underneath the boxes, were envelopes of increasingly garish shades, their yellows and oranges and reds meant to convey the same urgent warnings as a venomous animal. Danger. Danger. Ignore me at your peril.

Time is running out.

The Minuscule Mansion of Myra Malone is published by Macmillan on 1 June 2023

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.