Peggy Riley In the wake of a suspicious fire, Amaranth gathers her children and flees from the fundamentalist cult in which her children were born and raised. Now she is on the run with only her barely aged teenage daughters, Amity and Sorrow, neither of whom have seen the outside world, to help her. After four days of driving Amaranth crashes the car, leaving the family stranded at a gas station, hungry and terrified.
Rescue comes in the unlikely form of a downtrodden farmer, a man who offers sanctuary when the women need it most. However while Amity blossoms in this new world, free from her father’s tyranny, Sorrow will do anything to get back home. Although Amaranth herself is beginning to understand the nature of the man she has left, she needs the answer to one question; what happened to the other wives and children.
This has been one of the hardest reviews to write. I’ve started, deleted and started again. I ignored, re-scheduled and stared at a blank computer screen but enough is enough. I will attempt to express the complicated feeling I have for Amity and Sorrow.
I have to confess that had I not been offered this book to review, If I had simply seen Amity and Sorrow in a book shop, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up.
For me reading is escapism, an indulgence and a pleasure. I am all about the “Happily Ever After”. I admit that I avoid books that are likely to be too heavy, books that depict abuse, or books that are likely to make me feel too uncomfortable. God, Sex and Farming… To say that I was reading outside of my comfort zone would be an understatement!
Although I found the subject matter explored within Amity and Sorrow uncomfortable and harrowing, this book was so much more. I never felt as though Riley sensationalized her subject matter, three women escaping from a polygamist religious cult, to make a quick buck. But, much like the characters it introduces, this is a modest book, understated but no less heart wrenching.
Amity and Sorrow is told from the women’s 3rd person perspective as they find themselves attempting to acclimatize to their new, alien like, surroundings and make sense of their place within the world without the strict rules of their home or the guidance of their “Father God”. The present day narrative is seamlessly interspersed with flashbacks which take us in a reverse chronological journey, through the events that led to the decision to escape and beyond to the circumstances in which Amaranth first became involved with her husband and cult leader. Each flashback adds another layer to the quiet horror of the women’s story.
I found the ending distressing and unsettling, nevertheless it was completely right for the story. Riley has too much respect for her characters and their journey to belittle their traumas and their achievements or to tie up the book with a pretty bow, and a fantasy happy ever after. Instead she offers the reader a glimmer of hope and new beginnings, but ultimately leaves the reader with more questions than answers.
I read the book with a love-hate attitude towards most of the characters. Like family, no matter how much you fight or how much they frustrate you there are underlying threads of love and affection, which keep you rooting for them and in this case kept me turning the page.
While I applaud Amaranth for her strength of character for removing her daughters from a harmful situation, and I could even begin understand how she got herself entangled within the polygamous cult, I had the most issues with her decisions made following their escape. At times I felt like reaching into the pages of the book and shaking her, and saying ‘look at your daughters, see how they are still hurting, look at the dangers that surround them still.’ In retrospect I can see that she was in survival mode, doing the best she could in a undoubtedly difficult situation, while still broken and healing herself.
But then I guess that that is the difference between a good book and a great one. That very fact that over a month after finishing, I am remembering, and analyzing, and questioning and still wishing for that happily ever after.
There is no doubt that Amity and Sorrow is beautifully and sensitively written. The imagery memorable, easily transporting you into the dust and heat and hardship of rural Oklahoma, the pacing is perfect and the narrative borders are poetic. Verdict: While it is unlikely that I will ever re read Amity and Sorrow I have no doubts that I will be buying Peggy Riley’s next novel. Reviewed by Caroline
If you are intrigued by Peggy Riley’s debut don’t forget to pop back on the 18th of April when we will be taking part in the blog tour and hosting an INTERNATIONAL giveaway for a signed hardback!