Amity & Sorrow
A mother and her daughters drive for days without sleep until they crash their car in rural Oklahoma. The mother, Amaranth, is desperate to get away from someone she’s convinced will follow them wherever they go–her husband. The girls, Amity and Sorrow, can’t imagine what the world holds outside their father’s polygamous compound.
Rescue comes in the unlikely form of Bradley, a farmer grieving the loss of his wife. At first unwelcoming to these strange, prayerful women, Bradley’s abiding tolerance gets the best of him, and they become a new kind of family.
An unforgettable story of belief and redemption, Amity & Sorrow is about the influence of community and learning to stand on your own.
Peggy Riley’s debut novel starts strong and ends strong, though the middle sags in places and relies too heavily on laboured prose. Anyone with an interest in cult mentality, and of the human fallout of this kind of brainwashing, will be immediately interested in Amity & Sorrow.
The novel opens with a mysterious scene, two sisters in the back of a car, connected to one another by a strap around their wrists, while their mother drives with no destination other than ‘away’. The narrative reveals that they are escaping from a fire – the fire, as it will come to be known. After driving for four days, the mother crashes the car, and the trio find themselves on a farm somewhere in Oklahoma.
The tension and excitement that builds in the first few chapters swiftly dissipates as the novel settles into adjective-heavy descriptions of everyday life on this farm. The characterisation becomes boring and frustrating as Amaranth, Amity and Sorrow seem to go round in endless circles thinking about their former life. Any revelations about this former life, which involves Amaranth being the first of a religious preacher’s fifty wives, get lost within the flowery writing style.
It is worth trudging through the sagging middle of the novel to reach the end, though, which involves a runaway child, and a return to the temple that harbours secrets from the past. The ending is likely to be frustrating, stomach-turning, yet it offers the faintest glimmer of redemption for Amaranth and Amity, though not for Sorrow and her father.
I downloaded a copy of this book from NetGalley.com.