Monday 15 April 2013

Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley

Two sisters sit, side by side, in the back seat 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.
...When their mother took them, she ran them from the fire and the screaming...
Tinder Press May 2013
284 pages
Summary from Good Reads
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.
From the reversed colours of the front and back covers, the barbed wire twisted with faded flowers and the lettering tinted the colour of dried blood, you are not expecting a cheery read.  The physical book feels up-market and subtle – another clue to the contents.
Amity & Sorrow is a literary work tracing the aftermath of the collapse of an isolated religious sect. Generally, it shows the intense relationship of the two sisters and their mother in the present tense, and recounts the story of their mother Amaranth in the past tense. The timeline is complex with multiple flashbacks. There are also changes in perspective from one character to another.
The story is deeply rooted in the mid-western rural landscape – this is shown through some beautiful writing but Little House on the Prairie it most definitely is not. The writer uses some striking imagery and gives a convincing sense of ‘yes, that’s how someone like that would see it’ to the reader. It deals sensitively with some difficult subjects including polygamy and incest. Whilst some scenes and their implications are upsetting, there is nothing gratuitous. 
This work would suit an adult reader who enjoys peeling back layer after layer of meaning from a convoluted tale – the sort of book you need to read at least twice, I would say. It is certainly not a light read, but it does draw the reader into an extraordinary world. Difficult – but deep.


  1. I'm still thinking about this book - it's very thought provoking and disturbing.

  2. This does sound deep and disturbing. Excellent review, Vivienne.


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