Sunday, July 14, 2013

Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley

Amaranth, a mother, frantic to flee a polygamous cult where she was one of fifty wives, drives wildly across the country. Her two daughters, Amity and Sorrow, sit in the backseat, bound together by their wrists as well as blood. After several exhausting days of driving, she crashes the car in a dusty Oklahoma road.

Bradley, a farmer, still mourning the wife who left him, and trying to be a substitute father to a young farmhand, comes to their rescue. Although he is initially distrustful and wary of the strange trio, with their long skirts, aprons, clogs, and covered hair, and their strange ritual of “spinning” (praying by twirling around in circles), he gradually, grudgingly finds himself drawn to Amaranth, while his elderly father befriends the illiterate Amity and introduces her to books via his old copy of The Grapes of Wrath.

Only Sorrow stands apart, angrily longing for her father, cult leader Zachariah, and scheming to get back to him, and her position beside him at the altar as the cult’s Oracle.

Although a casual reading of the dustjacket might suggest this could be a more heartwarming or uplifting book as Amaranth and Bradley fall in love, and Amity discovers books, tv, and junk food, be forewarned it is not. On the contrary, this is a very dark book. The details of life in the polygamist cult are disturbing, as is the abuse the deluded and brainwashed Amity endures and longs with all her heart to return to. Her attempts to return to the only life she has ever known are both sad and frightening and have consequences both for herself and everyone around her. The author does an excellent job of depicting the girls’ ignorance and Amity’s attempts to adjust to her new life and Amaranth’s determination to give her daughters and herself a fresh start and a better life.  But the slow-budding romance between Bradley and Amaranth barely deserves to be labeled a romance at all in my opinion, it’s more like a “since you’re here, we’re both single, let’s make the best of things,” type situation. By making these comments, I don’t mean to imply that I did not enjoy the book, on the contrary I did, I would have probably enjoyed it much less if it had been one of those uplifting Hallmark Channel style stories, but I was recently told by a lady in the checkout line at Barnes & Noble that her book club felt the dustjacket blurb was somewhat misleading, and I can see how they reached that conclusion, so I wanted to mention this.

If you’re looking for sweetness and light and inspiration this book probably is not a good choice for you, but if you want something gritty and real about women and children who endure and then escape a cult and their attempts to recover and forge a new life for themselves, this novel should definitely be at the top of your list. I thought the author did a marvelous job in getting into the heads of all her characters and depicting their desires and fears.

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