Amity & Sorrow by Peg Riley
Touching on the always fascinating and controversial topic of polygamous cults and family dynamic is this wonderful debut novel by Peggy Riley. I was quickly enamored by the quiet darkest-before-dawn cautionary tale and soon became hooked as I sped through the opening chapters.
Amaranth, one of fifty wives in a fire-and-brimstone cult, seizes on a chance to make a daring escape by speeding away with her two teenage daughters, Amity and Sorrow. With no immediate or long-term plans and no direction, Amaranth drives blindly through days and nights without stopping until she finally crashes her car on a seemingly deserted farm.
The farm belongs to Bradley, who is struggling to make a go of it in dust-ridden Oklahoma after his wife abandons him. He is trying his best to scratch out a meager living on his run-down acreage while simultaneously caring for his bedridden father and Dust, a teenage boy abandoned by his own family.
At first Amaranth is eager to pick herself up and move on, but the car was beyond saving and now she and her daughters are stuck on the farm. Not wanting to be a burden, soon Amaranth finds ways to help Bradley by cooking and starting a garden. As she slowly acclimates to her new surroundings, we see how her inevitable decisions affect the girls. Amity, the younger and more easy-going daughter, soon takes a shine to Dust and tries her best to stay out of trouble. But it is the wild child Sorrow with her increasingly bizarre behavior that captivates the reader and becomes the center of the story.
Known in the cult as The Oracle, Sorrow feels it is her mission and duty to ready everyone for The Rapture. Displaying all sorts of bizarre and inexcusable ways of bringing this to fruition, everyone else is forced to stand back and let Sorrow have her way. The strangest part of all is that while her behavior is both jaw-dropping and revolting, you are almost spellbound to keep reading. As Sorrow draws in each of her victims she clearly reveals the nature of her helpless characters and sweeps you away to a shocking climax.
The vivid details of cult life rendered by the author are at times tender, shocking, and almost unbelievable. You are left vacillating between feelings of anger toward Amaranth and pity for her. While all the characters in the story very credible, many times not even likable, they are all larger than life. Riley’s talent in showcasing all the complex facets of each one in just the right increments are what makes this novel really soar.
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