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AMITY & SORROW by Peggy Riley

AMITY & SORROW

By Peggy Riley

Pub Date: April 16th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-316-22088-0
Publisher: Little, Brown

The eponymous title refers to the daughters of Amaranth, the first wife (out of 50) of Zachariah, Messianic leader of a Doomsday cult.

The novel opens with Amaranth on the lam with her two daughters, trying desperately to put some distance between herself and Zachariah, who’s recently tried to burn down the compound where they all lived. Exhausted after four days of travel, Amaranth crashes the car in rural Oklahoma, while at the same time Sorrow experiences a miscarriage. It eventually becomes clear that Zachariah sees himself as God and is also trying to father God, and Sorrow—also known as the Oracle—is the holy vessel to accomplish this task. Sorrow wants nothing more than to “go home” to Zachariah (she makes weird threats to Amity such as “The devil will fork your tongue and fry you” ) but Amaranth has recently become so spooked by Zachariah’s growing megalomania that she feels she no longer has a home. The car crash occurrs near an almost-abandoned gas station and farm owned by Bradley, whose wife has left him. Although Amaranth is slow to share information about her past, Bradley picks up some negative vibes and at first wants the three of them off his property. Through flashbacks we get glimpses into the lives Amaranth, Sorrow and Amity have led with Zachariah, shielded from the world and subject to his apocalyptic paranoia. Zachariah’s 39th wife is a “daughter of Waco” and so knows something about government persecution of religious cults, and Amaranth had suspicions that Zachariah might have been leading the women and children to a Jim Jones–style Kool-Aid annihilation. Bradley and Amaranth ultimately—perhaps inevitably—become lovers and begin to build a new family, all the while fearing Zachariah will catch up with them.

Simple in style but complex in tone, this book raises troubling questions about the power of doomladen cults, and their leaders and followers.