Title: Amity and Sorrow
Author: Peggy Riley
No. of Pages: 320
Origins: Hachette Books
Bottom Line: Thought-provoking look at a polygamous lifestyle and the long-lasting effects of living within a cult-like environment.
“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. “
Thoughts: Peggy Riley’s Amity and Sorrow is a unique look, not into the life of polygamy but rather into the lasting impact of a life spent living within a cult-like environment. It explores what happens when such a life is forcibly taken away from its followers and how they do – or do not – adjust to their sudden new life. For those living such a life and fully immersed in the belief system and culture, the abrupt departure from such a life can be as traumatic as anything, and it is this trauma that drives a majority of the plot.
Amity and Sorrow are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to acceptance of this life away from their family compound, and their reactions to their new-found freedoms are as opposing as their names. While the lack of familiar rules is disconcerting, Amity soon adapts and begins to test her new environment. Sorrow, however, wants nothing to do with this new life and aches to be back with her father and all that is familiar. While each of their reactions is understandable, given the fact that they were both born on the compound and know no other way of life, it is difficult for a reader to discern which girl is the more tragic. Sorrow is uncompromising in her abhorrence of life outside the compound and refuses to succumb to any of its lack of rules. Given what is revealed about life on the compound and her particularly uncomfortable relationship with her father, Sorrow’s exhibition of Stockholm Syndrome is upsetting but understandable. Amity does like what she finds and does begin to make the adjustment to her new life, but there is something terrible in the rules she cannot find the strength to break. Her inner conflict between old and new is every bit as heart-wrenching as Sorrow’s complete faith in the old, if not more so.
While the novel takes its name from Amaranth’s daughters, Amaranth’s story achieves its own time in the spotlight, and deservedly so. For, Amaranth remembers life before the compound, and through Ms. Riley’s careful psychology, a reader gets a clear picture of the reasons for why people remain attracted to faith-based cults. While the cult’s ideology itself is troublesome and will no doubt be distasteful for readers, one can understand how someone with Amaranth’s reckless past can find solace in an environment that embraces family and shared responsibilities. A reader’s simultaneous acceptance of and repugnance towards the compound and its belief system are some of the most surprising feelings generated by this thoughtful book.
As in life, there are many shades of grey within Amity and Sorrow that prevent a reader from feeling unequivocal sympathy towards any of the characters. Similarly, a reader will struggle with understanding and accepting the sense of camaraderie that occurred in Amaranth’s polygamous environment and with utter revulsion at what is later revealed. As one can imagine, such conflicts of feeling make the novel a dark reading experience, one in which not just the main characters will leave the story with scars. Yet, the chance to dive deeper into a polygamous culture makes it utterly fascinating. Fans of any of the current television shows about polygamous relationships should not pass up the chance for yet another viewpoint on this interesting and titillating lifestyle.