04 June 2013

Tuesday's review: Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley

This book was provided by the publisher in return for my review

Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company
Price: $25.99 Hardback
              $11.00 eBook
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Religious Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The current cultural spotlight on polygamous cults has peaked my interest in the subject, and it was for this reason that I decided to accept the invitation of Little, Brown and Company to read an ARC of Amity & Sorrow: A Novel ,Peggy Riley's debut novel, and review it. I started the book with trepidation as several of my friends thought that it was just okay. At first I thought I would agree, but the more I got into the story, the more that I realized that this book was going to be one that spoke to me on a certain level. 

The success of cults in our culture is a subject that has fascinated me for quite a while. For this reason I am drawn to books where the cult phenomena takes center stage. I admit, my purpose in reading these stories is to try to shed some light on why cults are so successful. 

Amaranth is the first wife of Zachariah, the patriarch of a polygamous cult. The central story in this book revolves around what happens to her when she decides to flee the cult and take her two daughters, Amity & Sorrow, with her. The three of them end up in Oklahoma, stuck on a farm in the middle of nowhere with the man who owns the farm, his father, and his adopted son. The compelling story of what transpires between the girls, their mother, and the inhabitants of the farm, and how it transforms the lives of everyone involved, is only half of the story, though. The other half of the story is about their life in the cult, which is told through the memories of the three characters that escaped the cult. It is this part of the story where the author attempts to answer the basic question about the psychology of a cult that is my prime fascination. These two sides of Amity & Sorrow's story and the way that the author was able to successfully entwine them was what drew me into this book. 

I also liked the way that the author used the characters of Amaranth, Sorrow, Amity, Bradley, his father, and Dust to represent the various layers of the story. Through the individual stories of these characters we see the contrast between the world of the true believer, the world of the non believer, and the world of those still trying to make up their minds. 

When discussing this book with friend, the most common negative comment that I came across was the author's unconventional writing style. I do admit, the writing style was different, and for the first few chapters I found it a bit distracting. After I got into the story, though, it ceased being something to overcome and became an integral part of the story as a whole. In fact, as the story continued, I felt that the author's writing style, like the behavior of some of the main characters, became less strange and more -- normal, for want of a better word. 

All in all, I found this book, its characters, and what it had to say about the psychology of a cult interesting. It showed me various sides of a question that fascinates me, and took me on a journey that I was glad to take. I thank Little, Brown and Company for the opportunity to read and review it.