12 February 2013

Book (P)Review: Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley

Have I mentioned recently how much I love my job?  No? Let me be clear: I do. Not least because occasionally I am able to make the long trek from where I live to Boston to have dinner with authors, publishers, and other booksellers. Last week the unpredictable New England winter weather cooperated and so I made my way to The Met Bar & Grill in Boston's Back Bay, courtesy of Little, Brown, to meet Peggy Riley, author of Amity and Sorrow.

When I read this book last month preparatory to meeting the author, I wasn't sure what to make of it at first.  It's the story of a mother named Amaranth who makes a desperate and reckless escape from a polygamous cult, fleeing with her two daughters across state lines, believing that the madman of her husband will pursue them at any cost. She may have been willing for him to take on all of his other wives after marrying her, but she'll be damned if he'll let him take one of their daughters as his next one, and so amidst the confusion of a police raid and the conflagration of their homemade temple, they escape in the night. Thus the book gets off to a start that is rife with sensationalism and it's as difficult for the reader to turn away from it as from a traffic accident.

Her daughters, named Amity and Sorrow, have never known anything outside their narrowly circumscribed life, but while Amity's youth and inherent sweetness might preserve her sanity and enable her to start a new life, Sorrow has no such refuge. She is very much her father's daughter, believing that she is the bringer of signs and the bearer of the new messiah, and she is so deeply imbalanced that in her quest to be reunited with her father her actions become as brutal as they are unpredictable.

In the meantime, Amaranth is pretty close to being useless as a parent, immobilized as much from the guilt she feels about raising her children in such a way as from being completely unaware of how to live in the modern world, one where women are allowed to talk with men who aren't their husbands, and where literacy in girls is required, not forbidden. She doesn't know whom to trust, she constantly fears that her husband is just one step behind her, and her uneasy alliance with the local farmer who allows them to live on his property in exchange for work only serves to confuse her.

The book is pretty easy to race through (after all, it ticks SO MANY of the boxes: cults, rape, incest, wild pursuits, madness, torture, brainwashing) but it was only when I got to the end of the book and could see Sorrow's insanity laid bare that led me to a better understanding of the novel and the women in it.  Well, that and being able to hear the author talk about the psychology of cults and how otherwise bright, "normal" women can be lured into situations like Amaranth was, with the promise of family and always having someone to belong to.

I suspect that this book will be making a big splash when it's published in April.

photo of me with Peggy Riley. Sorry for the bad lighting!


  1. This sounds a bit like the non-fiction read I just finished, Cult Insanity, although mine was set in the 1960s-1980s. It's so cool that you got to meet with the author and really add to your experience of reading the book.

  2. Excellent book. Loved the characters and the story. This is an interesting look at the idea of cults and family. A book I definitely recommend, for a million reasons.

  3. Appreciate the recommendation. Will try it out.

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  4. I can lighten up that pic for you in photoshop if you want, just for your own 'oh hey, I can see people in it now'-ness.

    1. Actually, that would be cool, Alice. Do I need to email it to you, or can you do that from copying the image from the web? My computer died when I was visiting Wisconsin back in January and I no longer have access to photoshop--type programs.


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