Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley

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Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: You'll warm to one of the sisters in thought-provoking look at polygamy and cults. It's by no means an easy read but is rewarding.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 284 Date: March 2013
Publisher: Tinder Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0755394364

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After the fire Amaranth took her two daughters and ran. She drove for four days without rest and then crashed the car. Her elder daughter, Sorrow, hadn't wanted to leave - and would have returned if she had the chance. Sorrow was just a teenager and Amaranth used a wrist strap to tether her to Amity who was just twelve. The women looked odd, with the voluminous clothes they wore - designed to obscure their bodies rather than for convenience or comfort - and Amaranth feared that her husband would pursue them. She was the first wife, after all - the first of fifty, but still the first. Salvation came in an unlikely form, a farmer by the name of Bradley who gave them shelter of a sort.

On the surface it hadn't seemed like a bad life. The rules - about where they could go, what they must wear and how they must act - were limiting but it seemed that they were for their own good or for the good of the family and there was a great deal of support from the other wives, who were mothers to all the children. They grew their own food and worshiped in the temple. If Amaranth's husband was away for long periods she knew that she would be first when he - the Father - returned, even if he brought more wives with him. But gradually Amaranth began to wonder about what had happened to other wives and about what was happening to her elder daughter. And the authorities were interested too.

Peggy Riley effortlessly conveys that atmosphere of constrained innocence and ignorance mixed with knowingness which pervades cults - for that was what this was. Neither Sorrow nor Amity could read but Sorrow, particularly, was prone to quoting from the Bible - which is within us but which she admitted hadn't been written entirely by the Father, her father. She was though, sexually active and had been for some time. When the three women ran from the fire she was pregnant, but by whom?

It's not just a good story. It's an elegant and insightful look at the ways in which cults operate and how they prey on the vulnerable. Amaranth was addicted to alcohol when she married and another wife had fled from Waco. With others it was what they could bring that mattered; sometimes it was goods, sometimes parcels of land. All went, in one form or another, into the cult's coffers. You'll feel the horror of it - and just occasionally envy the feeling of the security of being part of the unit. It's a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the family unit writ large.

It's not an easy read in the sense that Riley subtly conveys a sense of unease. What will Amaranth's husband do to find the three women? To what extent are the authorities interested in the cause of the fire or what went on before? Most of all there's the tension of what Sorrow, convinced that she is the oracle and suffering from religious mania, will do next. It is though a rewarding read and I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For more on cults we can recommend Arcadia by Lauren Groff. We had some reservations about The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff but it's not without merit.

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