She didn’t know that preparing for the end of the world would make it that much more likely to come.
Amaranth and her daughters Amity and Sorrow are fleeing from a religious cult. The cult leader is Amaranth’s husband, Zachariah. Amaranth is driving and she fears that they are being pursued.
With drama, tension and suspense Peggy Riley hooks her reader in the short, opening scene of Amity & Sorrow.
This is the story of a mother and her two daughters Amity and Sorrow who run away from a closed community where is Amaranth is the most senior of the fifty wives of Zachariah.
It quickly becomes clear that while Amaranth is protecting her daughters. While, the elder girl — Sorrow — wants nothing more than to return to her father because, within the cult, she enjoys some status as the “Oracle”.
The younger girl, Amity, from whose point of view much of the story is told, is protective of her older sister.
Sorrow is clearly disturbed therefore the question of what has caused this is one of the darker themes of this short novel.
When Amaranth crashes the car into a tree, she and her daughters find refuge on a farm. There, the farm owner, Bradley, struggles to make a living from land that traditionally yielded wheat but is now used for crops like rapeseed.
The planting of seed is a recurring theme throughout Amity & Sorrow. Growth is the miracle and seeds are the foundation for growth. But seeds only grow in the ground that you are given. They must be planted at the right time and tended in order to flourish. Even then, success is not certain: “You water, you tend, and sometimes seeds don’t take.” So hope is necessary too.
On the cult’s farm, going into the fields is forbidden. But Bradley’s farm hand, a Mexican boy named Dust encourages Amity to challenge what she has been taught.
“God makes fields grow. God makes the harvest and the seed and the rain. They should have taught you God is a field,” he tells her.
Amaranth — a life-giver — finds jars of unused seeds stored on Bradley’s farm. She wants to plant them but Bradley is reluctant to allow her because he is afraid she might not be around long enough to look after them.
“Don’t put seeds in you can’t tend,” he cautions.
Rules for Living
In the same way that scattering seed, tending seed and reaping what you sow are a theme in Amity & Sorrow, so is the idea of living by rules.
People sometimes make choices to abide by rules that seem bizarre to an outside observer. The cult has many rules. It is forbidden to talk to strangers, forbidden to go into the fields, hair must be covered at all times. Only women and wives can spin in prayer.
Bradley’s house, too, has rules. When Amaranth tries to open the porch door it slams in her face “as if the house itself has rules it wants to keep”.
Yet some rules are “stupid”, made to be broken, and sometimes there are — or should be — no rules.
Amaranth is afraid to challenge the rules and Dust has no rules: “I don’t need rules. I have sense and guts,” he says. Through Dust, Amity learns to question the rules — “It made her wish she’d though to ask at home, when someone might have answered her. Why did she never ask why?”
Aside from its insights into why people entrap themselves by what they choose to believe, learning to question the rules is perhaps the key take away from Amity & Sorrow.
Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley is published by Little, Brown & Company. April 2013. ISBN 9780316220880. An Advance Reader’s Copy was made available via Netgalley for the purposes of this review.