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.
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.
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?