Review: Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley

18th April 2013

pg1*I received this book from the publisher Little, Brown and Company in exchange for an honest review.

Two sisters sit, side by side, in the backseat of an old car. Amity and Sorrow.

Their hands are hot and close together. A strip of white fabric loops between them, tying them together, wrist to wrist.

…in the car, there was only driving and darkness, the watching of their mother, the roads behind them and the sound of her sister, sobbing, as home stretched away from them, mile after mile.

Amaranth leaves home in desperation, driving without ceasing to leave behind the polygamous cult in which she has conceived and raised her daughters. Neither Amity nor Sorrow has ever known the world outside the compound, but Amaranth has torn the girls from their home after reaching devastating clarity about its ills. A car crash ends their flight, and Bradley, a struggling farmer, comes to their aid.

Amity is, much as her name implies, open to meeting new people, excited about this adventure and only intermittently worried about breaking the rules of her father and spiritual leader. Sorrow, on the other hand, is bereft. Her fierce love of her father and her place within the cult as the Oracle has been ripped from her by a mother who seems not to understand her grief. Amaranth, though, isn’t neglectful of her daughters but simply guilt ridden and horrified by the life she led within the compound.

One of 50 wives, Amaranth looks back on her life before Zachariah, the group’s leader. She recalls the moment she realizes that one, two, three wives will not be enough for him. But she also remembers the love she felt for her sister wives, women who became her strength and her solace. Wrapped up in her own thoughts and her own desire for safety – which she suspects she may be able to find in Bradley – she isn’t cognizant of the girls’ confusion.

Told from both Amaranth and Amity’s perspective, Amity & Sorrow is a strange book. The time period is even difficult to pin down because of the rural locale and the ignorance of the girls. Sorrow is by far the least sympathetic character, but that’s partially because her story is never explored. While that narrative choice makes sense in terms of her zeal for the compound (perhaps making her narrative a bit off kilter), it also restricted her characterization, so that she appeared insane, less a character than a symbol or victim. She becomes, instead, the sacrificial lamb, the deluded child-woman unable to make her own decisions or see beyond the cult.

The book is disturbing in its implications; however, the distance created by the isolation of the characters and their disconnectedness from one another made for odd but enthralling reading.

Add this book to your Goodreads shelf.

  • I’ve heard so many good things about this book that I finally grabbed it from NetGalley. I’m hoping to read some of it this weekend while we’re out of town.

    • I’m so curious to see what you think of it. It’s a strange feeling not to really enjoy a book but be interested by it.

  • Also, I don’t know if you were on Twitter the day I said something about the title, but let me preface what follows by telling you that my brain turns the majority of things I interact with on a daily basis to music…

    The very first time I read the title of this book (and now every time since then), my mind reads “Amity & Sorrow” in James Hetfield’s (from Metallica) voice, to the tune of “Harvester of Sorrow.” Every. Time.

    • Haha! Nothing wrong with that.

  • Charlie

    I was thinking of requesting this but wasn’t sure. I think I’ll have to now. The time aspect sounds like it could be part of the overall affect, depending on the culture of the cult. Interesting that it’s the character called Sorrow that has such a name, when she’s the one most involved in it all.

    • I agree. It definitely felt like the time issue was purposeful, especially as the true ignorance of the girls is revealed slowly. And wow, it’s shocking when those moments come along.

  • Jennifer Hartling

    I recently finished this one myself. Lovely and disturbing. I’m glad to see that you enjoyed it as well 🙂

    • I saw that! I try to avoid reviews when I know I’ll be writing for the same soon. I need to go back and read it.

  • This one does sound a bit odd. There is a lot of press for it, which makes me want to read it but the story line…not sure I want to read it.

    • It’s a strange little book for sure. I don’t regret reading it, but in truth, it made cults just that much more abhorrent to me.

  • This book is all over the place right now! I might have to read it because A.) I was pre-approved and like when books come to me, and B.) Most people think it’s worth reading.

  • Julianne – Outlandish Lit

    This sounds pretty creepy and interesting. And Zachariah is such a typical cult leader name. Ok, I don’t really know that many cult leaders, but it sounds like it is. I’ll definitely check this one out.

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