Cults · Fiction · Religious

Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley

My rating: 3/5 stars

“All great journeys are made in faith.”     – Amity and Sorrow

It is most certainly faith that leads a young mother, Amaranth, to steal her two daughters away from the zealously-religious, polygamist commune that has been her home for the past 20 years.  After driving for more than four straight days, exhaustion takes over and a weary Amaranth falls asleep at the wheel, running their car headlong into a tree in the middle of Oklahoma.  There, they are saved by a rape farmer named Bradley.  They stay with him on his farm and try to build relationships, heal, and let go of the past.

Amaranth’s husband, Zachariah, is the commune’s leader and prophet.  He rules with an iron fist and Amaranth is terrified that he will be coming to take his girls back home.  Amaranth was the first wife of her husband.  At the time of their flight, he is up to 50 – yes, you read that right! – 50 wives!  His MO is similar to many cults we’ve read about: he goes out every summer to find lonely, wayward, drug-addicted females to bring back home and marry.  His world is one of rules, which Amaranth first must get used to obeying unquestioningly, and then unlearn throughout the rest of the book.  To the end, she still has to remind herself that the rules are made up, Zachariah was no prophet, and the end of days isn’t right around the corner.  Even taking the giant leap of stepping into Bradley’s house triggers an almost schizophrenic episode because Zachariah’s rules include never setting foot beyond another man’s door. (Strangely enough, this seems bother her more than beginning a physical relationship with Bradley.  Hmm…)

Readers will have many questions about this book.  Some are easily answered and others must be heavily inferred, resulting in some plot holes, but otherwise a pretty good read.

Why does Amaranth stay at the farm instead of taking her girls to the authorities?  Amaranth has learned to be suspicious of authorities during her time as Zachariah’s wife.  Nearly all of the wives share this fear, although some more strongly than others.  Most of them have dealt negatively with the law at one point or another during their checkered pasts.  Understandably, the worst of these is a wife who was part of the massacre in Waco Texas (remember the Branch Davidians??)  She apparently went from one cult straight into the arms of another.  Also, Amaranth’s daughter has had, shall we say, an unnatural relationship with her father and her mother would do anything to spare her the pain and shame of coming out with everything during an investigation.  So basically police are out of the question.

How the hell did this guy convince 50 women to marry him??  Well, as I said previously, Zachariah is like any good cult leader.  Find the broken, the homeless, the indigent.  Give them some semblance of family and home, clean them up, and the reap the benefits of their gratitude!  Fill them full of your religious end of days nonsense and they’re eating out of the palm of your hand!  Seriously, this guy is disgusting.  Also, I’m pretty sure this is an unfair, simplistic portrayal of the downtrodden masses.  They seem to realize that this is all a little coo-coo-bananas from the moment they reach the farm, but there isn’t enough information for us to really see how he convinces them that he’s the all-knowing Almighty.  Just one of the many plot holes that may raise your eyebrows throughout the book.

Who are these people?  Well, Amaranth is pretty self-explanatory.  I found that I was conflicted about her character as she seemed to want to make herself seem selfless and all about her daughters, but I felt like she was more concerned with herself than attempting to get them any help to heal.  But who can judge, right?

Amity – Amaranth’s youngest daughter, open to experiencing what the larger world has to offer.  Her ideas about men are completely messed up, but what can one expect from a child who watched her mother share her father with 49 other women in a situation where sex was basically currency?  She is so innocent and feels so responsible for her sister (who is on a serious downward slope) that she is heart-breaking to read.  I just wanted to take her home with me.  And get her some therapy.

Sorrow – Amaranth’s oldest daughter, and by far the most damaged of the three women.  All she wants is to go home to the waiting arms of her father.  Honestly, at some point during the book, I found myself saying, Go! Good riddance!   She has bought all of Zachariah’s bullshit hook, line, and sinker.  She was the most irritating character by far.  Listen to her judgemental whining, watch her destructive behaviour, and see if you’re not willing to drive her back home too!  Ultimately, though, I still found myself wanting the best for her.  As much as she annoyed me, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her.  In an instant, she is torn away from everything she knows and loves and told that her father is evil, the rules she lived by were nonsense, and her purpose as the Oracle (we’re talking psychic connection with a bowl stuff here) is hogwash.  Honestly, I’d probably find myself wanting to burn some stuff down too.

Bradley and Dust – the farmer and his (sort of) adopted son/farmhand.  These characters were likable, but totally underdeveloped.  They felt like plot devices instead of living, breathing people.  Bradley’s wife left him broken-hearted years ago, his farm is failing, and he keeps his aging father locked in a bedroom upstairs (it’s really not as monstrous as it sounds, I swear).  Dust tries introducing the girls to the modern world and generally just thinks they’re all nuts.  Maybe more time could have been devoted to developing these characters and getting to know them, maybe not.  They’re in a weird realm of necessary, but not really important.  They seem to serve the purpose they set out to, but it feels like a waste to leave them so one-dimensional.

Zachariah – I understand that he’s supposed to be some horrible, dangerous monster (the guy did some BAD things, don’t get me wrong) but I really couldn’t see why Amaranth spent the better part of the novel looking over her shoulder and freaking out because he would be coming for them.  There wasn’t nearly enough of Zachariah in the book to get that sense of him.  The guy’s a pervert.  I get that.  The guy’s manipulative.  Yep, with you so far…but that’s about it.  I didn’t get the sense that he was super dangerous.  Maybe I’m missing something here??

What was life like before the escape?  This is really the biggest mystery of all.  Not nearly enough time was spent developing the back story and this cost a lot in terms of heightening the action in the book and getting to know the characters better.  In fact, the reader barely gets to see any of the girls’ lives from before at all.  The author gives us a scant glance into life there, but falls short of developing a really compelling story.  It’s too bad because with 50 spinning, praying women living together on an isolated parcel of land, dynamics could definitely have been intriguing.  I was really excited to read about a life so far removed from my own.  I’m sorry, but something about these isolated polygamous sects is just really interesting (from a safe distance, I mean).

All in all, this was a fast, easy read.  I think it’s worth picking up and I may try some more books that delve into the same type of subject matter.  I definitely can’t say that I was satisfied by the novel and it certainly didn’t knock my socks off, but I’m glad I picked it up.  I think there would be some good discussion pieces in it for sure.

Happy reading!



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