Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley… And Katie's Phobias

April 19, 2013 Coming of Age, Contemporary Fiction, Family, Psychological, Religion 43

Have you heard the good news, Bookworms?

Have I ever told you about my intense, paralyzing fear of religious cults? The Children of the Corn is the most terrifying movie I have ever seen. I have absolutely no intention of ever reading the book, because that would be giving the creepy preacher kid permission inhabit and chew up my soul. When I saw that I’d been pre-approved for Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley on Netgalley (yes, boys and girls, that means I got another free book!) I was concerned, but like the proverbial curious cat, I couldn’t stop myself from giving it a whirl.

Amity & Sorrow is a novel about a woman named Amaranth who escapes a polygamous religious cult with her two daughters. Her elder daughter is named Sorrow, and believes herself a vessel of holiness and a prophet. Her younger daughter, Amity, is a 12 year old girl who is trying to make sense of her life’s upheaval.


Their wrists are strapped together because Sorrow has had too much of the metaphorical kool-aid and is a flight risk…

A little about this cult. This is NOT a fundamentalist Mormon sect, thought that’s certainly what I typically associate with polygamy and prairie dresses.  It appears the patriarch Zachariah originally hailed from such a society, and he’s borrowing some of their traditions to create his own little world. Most notable is that instead of this being a community, it is a SINGLE family (if you’re interested in some fiction about a fundamentalist Mormon sect, check out The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff .) Zachariah is the ONLY husband in a community of FIFTY wives and twenty seven children. There are no elders, organization, or other men (over the age of 16.) Every time Zachariah takes on a new wife, every wife watches him ceremonially consummate his union with the new wife (this part reminded me of The Handmaid’s Tale.) Now. I am all for freedom of religion. But making your 49 wives watch you get busy with the new one? That can’t be good for anyone. The cops get wind that in addition to the many. many wives, there is something untoward going on with one or more of the underage children. (SPOILER ALERT- there is.) But polygamy isn’t Zachariah’s only passion. He’s also CONVINCED that doomsday is nigh. When the authorities close in? The temple goes up in flames.

BUT! Amaranth escapes the flames with her daughters in tow. Unfortunately, she totals their getaway car in the middle of the Oklahoma panhandle and has to throw herself on the mercy of an unsuspecting farmer. Sure, it will be difficult for them to adjust, but they’ll be okay now, right? A farm’s a good spot for people who are used to an agrarian lifestyle to rebuilt their lives, right? Maybe it would have been, if Sorrow wasn’t so FREAKING CRAZY. That cult and her father did a NUMBER on her and she’s just not stable. Not even a little. She is manipulative and cruel and violent and a bit of a pyromaniac.

Sorrow is a Firestarter, but unlike Drew Barrymore, she needs to use matches (laaaame.)

Sorrow is a Firestarter, but unlike Drew Barrymore, she needs to use matches (laaaame.) Source

Amaranth is an emotional mess because once she’s removed from the cult she sees just how horrifically it has affected her daughters. My dear sweet anti-cult LORD, the girls CANNOT READ! (This also reminds me of The Handmaid’s Tale, but Offred is smart enough not to like it…) It doesn’t really help Sorrow’s decent into madness that her mother decides to spend some quality naked time with Bradley the kindly farmer, but nothing short of intense psychotherapy and psychotropic drugs could really have helped Sorrow.

Sound crazy? It is! It was a tough read for me, subject matter wise, because, cults are my personal phobia (that and swimming in fish infested water…) The story sucks you in, and it certainly got to me. I gasped aloud at several points, much like a coached live studio audience at a sitcom taping (do they do casting calls for audience members? Because I’m REALLY good at the gasp, and the giggle. I’d even throw in a catcall if the need arose…) I understood the characters’ motivations, even if I wanted to inject them with tranquilizers have them committed. I don’t know that I would recommend this to everybody, because it’s got a lot of disturbing elements, but the crowd that enjoys tales of psychological trauma will eat this up. You want something to get under your skin? Amity & Sorrow just might me the book for you!

(PSA: It could seriously upset people who have suffered physically or psychologically at the hands of an oppressive religious group, and it’s probably NOT a good idea for survivors of rape and/or incest.)

So, Bookworms. I am very interested in hearing about YOUR phobias so I don’t feel all vulnerable and whatnot. Share with me. What are some of your greatest fears?

43 Responses to “Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley… And Katie's Phobias”

  1. suburbanprincessteacher

    Prisons…anything to do with prison. I don’t watch movies with a prison theme, which according to my husband, has caused me to miss out on the best movie EVER – Shawshank Redemption. Good for you for overcoming your fear to read a great book.

    • Words for Worms

      Yeah, my fear of cults gives me a good case of the heebie jeebies, but nothing that can’t be remedied with a little chick-lit follow up. Prisons huh? The whole confinement thing is pretty scary stuff… I can’t blame you for being afraid of that!

  2. Jayne

    So that book I mentioned the other day called The Informtaionist? Nothing about cults in that one, but if you had any intention of reading it, you may want to avoid the second one. Because it’s all about a child getting kidnapped into a religious cult. It’s a great book, but maybe not if you have a phobia about them. The author actually grew up in a religious cult very similar to the one she writes about in the book. She came and spoke to my book club last year and it was both fascinating and terrifying listening to her talk about her childhood. Like your book, she had very little education and zero life skills, so she really did have lots of adjustment to make when she got out. Little things that we would never think about being difficult. Her cult is no longer active, but it is scary to think that things like that really are out there.

    • Words for Worms

      Oh, I fear cults, but I eat up fiction about them anyway. You know. So long as He Who Walks Behind The Rows isn’t involved, because demons and stuff? That’s just too much for my little scaredy self.

  3. Rory

    I just read and reviewed this one, I liked it, though I did (of course) find the cult creepy.

    Aliens scare the pants off me. And I’m not fond of flying. There’s a new movie coming out aliens attacking a plane over the Pacific – guess what I won’t be watching?

    • Words for Worms

      Aliens attacking a plane? Oh heck no. The things that scare me most are the things that COULD be real, so zombies are thrilling, not scary. But aliens? You better believe I don’t think we’re alone in the universe. Why are they never NICE aliens? WHY???

  4. Nadia

    OMG! You freaked me out over this book. I just got approved for it and now I’m a bit nervous to read it. You make it sound so scary and good – I definitely need to read it, regardless of nerves 🙂 What a great review!!

    • Words for Worms

      It’s not really that scary so much as it is disturbing… But like I said, that’s because I personally fear cults more than your average Jane. I’m looking forward to hearing what you think of it!

  5. Daddio

    Prisons and mechanical monkeys. Hereby Jeebies! And shipping trade show displays …

  6. Jennifer

    I’m seeing this one all over the place and I’m glad, glad, glad. I recently finished it myself. I don’t fear cults…perhaps I should?? I’m not a fan of clowns/spiders/heights. Blech.

    • Words for Worms

      I don’t love spiders, but I wouldn’t say that I’m like phobic about them. I just squish em. Clowns have never bothered me, but heights? There’s a reason humans fear them. It hurts to fall from them. So. That seems perfectly reasonable.

  7. Christi

    My biggest phobia is dark in the forest, mainly because of bears. I worked at a summer camp in the mountains for years, and I was insanely afraid of bears at night to the point where the entire staff knew I wouldn’t go anywhere by myself at night. And of course, they made fun of me endlessly. I managed to hide this fear from the campers, though.

    Amity and Sorrow sounds super creepy. If I read it, it will definitely be during daylight hours.

  8. Megan M.

    My biggest fear is getting in a car accident near some body of water and being trapped, underwater, in my car with my two girls (they’re always with me, currently aged 5 and 3) and not being able to save us. I don’t know how to swim. I’m also terrified of learning how to swim. I once turned down a well-paying job because it was a late-night shift and you had to drive over a lake bridge to get to it, which meant I could possibly be driving it tired enough to fall asleep at the wheel. I just couldn’t do it.

    • Words for Worms

      My mom is kind of like that about water. She doesn’t like it and has no desire to learn to swim. Ever. I don’t mind swimming, but if there are fish in the water? It’s not happening. I hate fish (unless they are behind glass or on my plate.)

  9. Leah

    I got a galley of this book (from the UK publisher, Tinder Press, actually) and I just couldn’t really get into it. I read about 90 pages and then put it down for something else. Maybe cult fiction isn’t really my thing? But I’ve been seeing a lot of buzz for this book, so I’m thinking of trying it again, picking up where I left off. Because apparently that’s what I do now, stop reading certain books for a while and then finish them later 😛

    My big fear is of things that go bump in the night. A few weeks ago, I was home alone for the night and something made a terrible noise outside my window (probably a cat), and I was certain someone was going to break into my house and rape and stab me. I could not sleep for hours. I turned all the lights on, made my dog stay by my side, and watched Juno to make myself relax.

  10. Charleen

    Heights and large bodies of water are the two biggies. Good thing I don’t have to drive across a huge bridge spanning the Mississippi all the time… oh wait, yes I do. Damn.

    I also hate being alone at night. On the very rare occasions that my husband’s been out of town overnight, I involuntarily pull an all-nighter because at every little sound, I’m like, “OMG SOMEONE’S BREAKING IN!!!” (Well, maybe not an all-nighter… I think last time I finally crashed about 4am.) Occasionally I feel like I missed out by never having lived alone — I had roommates all through college and from there moved in with my then-fiance — but then a situation like this comes up and I realize I probably wouldn’t have handled it well. On the other hand, maybe it would have forced me to get used to such things.

    • Words for Worms

      Oh I DO NOT like driving over the Mississippi. I drive over the Illinois river every day, but the Mighty Mississippi is too huge and, well, mighty. I lived alone for a year after college, so the whole things that go bump in the night doesn’t bother me TOO much. Of course, that’s probably because I sleep like the dead…

  11. annesquared

    Mimes. Hate them. Will cross the street to avoid them.

    I can deal with about anything else, spiders, bugs, ebola, even driving across the Mississippi. But no what I mentioned above. ewwww….

  12. Sarah Says Read

    That creepy little killer doll in those annoyingly popular Child’s Play movies? Yeah THAT is my phobia. I don’t even like to say his name (or type it, apparently). Also tornadoes. And it’s not exactly a phobia, but I really really hate making left-hand turns onto busy-ish streets while driving. Sometimes I just turn right and then turn around elsewhere.

    This book sounds weirdly creepy though! Cults are creepy and mind-boggling enough, but Sorrow sounds like a real creeper.

  13. Sarah Says Read

    Actually you know, it’s not JUST creepy killer doll – that’s really spawned into a dislike of all small person-figures like that. Gnomes freak me out a bit. And some midgets. And it might be part of why kids aren’t my favorite thing.

  14. Jenny

    It’s all serial killers for me. I don’t mind reading scary things, even scary cult things — I liked Martha Marcy May Marlene in spite of how bad it freaked me out — but I cannot handle books and films about serial killers. Ghosts are pretend but serial killers are real.

    • Words for Worms

      Anything real is significantly scarier than things that aren’t… Like zombies. This is how I can enjoy zombies even though I don’t love scary things. I hear you on serial killers! Eeeek!

  15. Yamika

    Paper cuts, but only in the zombie apocalypse. I fear that instead of a surprise bite or a full on attack by multiple zombies, something as small as a paper cut will be my downfall. I’d be rummaging through some bodies for supplies and bam! No more Mrs-nice-me. Like in ’28 days later’ when a drop of blood fell into that guy’s eye and he turned.

  16. mynovelopinion

    I too was invited to download this from Netgalley and was also unsure about this book due to the topic. But after reading your review I thought I should go ahead and download it. I was pleasantly surprised. I’m writing my thoughts up at the moment to post on my blog.

  17. detritusandmiscellany

    First, I just started reading your blog, and I love it! You’ve reviewed quite a few books that have been recommended to me (like “The Handmaid’s Tale”) which I’ve never known what to expect.
    As for phobias, I’m terrified of nearly all flying, stinging insects except for bees. I’ve only ever been stung by a bee, but wasps have always seemed to be the most sociopathic of Arthropoda. Also cockroaches: the smaller ones turn my stomach, but the large “water bugs” abundant in TX will make me cross the street to avoid them. One flew into my forehead, and if I was religious, I’m sure I would have displeased the heavens with my terror dancing and verbal blasphemy. Heights, mainly manmade heights, don’t petrify me like they used to; however, I still freak out on ladders. The notion of falling in the street or down stairs is really unsettling to me as well.
    But I love the idea of ghosts. The TV shows which feature haunted castles and hotels are like my travel guides.
    I wish I had been scared of ‘fish infested waters’, because I was bitten by three fish (or one fish three times) when swimming in Lake Travis in Austin.
    Now that I think about it, touching the floor in public restrooms, elevators falling, and ceiling fans coming loose are also fears of mine. I’ve always liked mimes, though.

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