Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley

review by Maryom

Amaranth is running away from her husband, a self-styled prophet and leader of their polygamous community of one man and fifty wives. For years they've lived their lives, isolated from the world, in comparative harmony but now Amaranth is afraid of what the future holds for her daughters, Amity and Sorrow. So, when an opportunity presents itself, she flees with them, driving non stop for 4 days only coming to a halt when she crashes the car near a lonely gas station. Stranded there, they have to rely on the grudging help of the local farmer for food and shelter. Slowly they start to put a new life together but can they just ignore the past and walk away?

Amity and Sorrow is an impressive, thought-provoking debut exploring the appeal of 'alternative lifestyle' cults. The story-telling moves between the present - Amaranth running away - and the past - revealing the origins of the cult and its slide into something twisted - and gradually the reader discovers what exactly Amaranth was so desperate to get away from.

Their community grew out of worthy-sounding ideals; offering a shelter to lonely, down on their luck women - some wanting to quit a life of drugs or alcohol, some running away from violence and abuse, some just drawn by the thought of a simpler, back to nature way of life.  For many years it seemed like an idyllic place, one of endless bounty; plentiful harvests, full food stores and love for all. But what starts by giving these women a loving, caring home builds up into a sinister polygamous cult.
It contrasts sharply with the 'real' world where Amaranth ends up. This may have mechanical and technological advances but is a harsh place of dry, barren earth where months of drought are followed by equally ruinous deluge and farming is a hard, hand to mouth existence. It's almost as if Amaranth has been living in a dream-world and has now woken up to reality.
To her daughters, the outside world is a strange, often frightening place to which they react in strikingly different ways. Amity is curious about the new things she discovers and wants to fit in. Sorrow was happier before and longs to return to their sheltered life in the commune.
The book is filled with strong believable characters from Amaranth and her daughters, to the sister-wives they left behind and the farmer and his elderly father who offer a new refuge. 
Importantly for me, I felt this wasn't a book that gave up all its secrets at the first reading but one that it's possible to go back to time and again and uncover more.
I wonder how and with what Peggy Riley will follow this.... I'm certainly looking forward to finding out.

...and if you're intrigued by this, I was lucky enough to interview Peggy Riley about some of the issues raised

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - 
Tinder Press
Genre -
Adult fiction

Buy Amity & Sorrow from Amazon

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