Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley
Peggy Riley’s debut novel, Amity and Sorrow, has been marketed in the UK with the tag God, Sex, Farming. This trifecta sums up the essence of the novel but don’t for one minute assume it is either a raunchy awakening of a woman fleeing a cult or a sensationalist novel of life in a closed religious community. Riley avoids clichés and has created a rather heart stopping story. At times it skims the edge of troubling with regards to content but overall it is a most thought provoking and compelling read.
Amaranth is fleeing from a small, isolated polygamous community with her two daughters, Amity and Sorrow. Their journey takes them to the Oklahoma Panhandle where they become marooned and are forced to each navigate life away from the unique religious rules they are used to following. Slowly it is revealed that each of the three had a specific role within the community from which they fled and through glimpses Riley shows us what the family had endured. Unfortunately, if I elaborate I will be giving too much away! The reader’s journey is to slowly uncover their past.
Amity and Sorrow is filled with symbolism. The one that leapt out at me first was that of spinning. At its basic level, women in the religious community used spinning as a form of ecstasy and worship, and I mean spinning in it’s literal sense, perhaps like whirling dervishes. However, the idea of spinning is mirrored in the story; the current day events spin forward and the flashbacks spin backwards. Both narratives pick up intensity as the story reaches its climax.
The symbolism of the hand ties that bind Amity and Sorrow together was woven into the story throughout and made into a poignant point at the end. The doctrine of the religious group focuses on fire being a harbinger for the commencement of Revelation and there are countless ways this can be interpreted. For example, it is fire that originally forces the family into the modern world where they each face their own personal revelations.
There is much in the novel to appreciate. I liked the sibling rivalry Amity feels with Sorrow. For the most part it was subtle but realistic. I also liked the inclusion of other religious groups in Oklahoma and Amity’s response to them. Most of all I liked it how Amity and Sorrow, knowing no other way of life, were naïve but not simple when introduced to modern society. Their characters were believable.
I thought that Amity and Sorrow was a perfectly contained tale. The ending was fitting and was not what I expected. It left me a little uncomfortable but upon reflection it seemed appropriate. The only thing I would have liked read more about was Amaranth’s earlier life but I do not feel cheated with the amount Riley has given me to work with, I am just being greedy!
If you pick up this novel you will quickly be drawn into the lives of Amity and Sorrow and feel as if you are navigating the world with them. The content makes it sound really heavy but you will be swept up with it and it will leave you with a lot to think about.
Amity and Sorrow: 5 Stars
Thank you to Little, Brown and Company for providing me with a review copy of the title.
Two other similar novels I currently have on my bookshelf for when I am next in the mood for polygamy and religious fervour:
Sisterwives by Rachel Connor. Follows the lives of two women in the small religious community of Marah. Also a debut.
A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash. A healing ceremony in a Christian sect goes wrong in the mountains of North Carolina.
Also, an entertaining and touching novel about a polygamous family I read just under a year ago:
The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall. Golden Richards, a man with four wives and 28 children has an affair. A lot more light hearted than Amity and Sorrow! Highly recommended.
- Guest post: Peggy Riley, author of Amity & Sorrow (bermudaonion.net)
- A Very American Tale – Peggy Riley’s Amity and Sorrow (mefinx.wordpress.com)
- A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash (2headstogether.wordpress.com)
- Need Something To Do Wednesday? (boiseweekly.com)