In the chaos of the police turning up and a suspicious fire being started, she grabs her two daughters, the aforementioned Amity and Sorrow, and flees.
Convinced her husband is following close behind, she drives for four days straight across America, finally falling asleep at the wheel and crashing the car in middle-of-nowhere, Oklahoma.
Bradley, the grumpy, grieving farmer into whose fields they’ve crash-landed, suddenly finds himself an unlikely saviour and guardian of three strange, scared and scarred women with next to no knowledge or understanding of the world outside their closeted community.
The language and imagery are lush, cinematic and at times surreal... Adjusting to these new circumstances doesn’t come easy for any of them, and though some of the events in Amity & Sorrow are certainly traumatic and anxious (for both the characters and the reader), the novel never feels heavy-handed or overly harrowing.
Instead, it’s a slow-burning, gorgeously-written and engrossing read, taking on grand themes like redemption, responsibility, innocence and independence, but through a small, damaged cast whose flaws, hopes and hurts we get to know intimately.
Though the events in the book will be a world away from most readers’ experiences, Amity & Sorrow feels for the most part very believable, and that’s one of the factors that make it so effecting and thought-provoking.
Certain characters remain ciphers, their motives and emotions only inferred by others and never explored in-depth. Sorrow especially is one of these, though the reader gets occasional insights into her psyche through her sister, Amity.
Enough is inferred to give clues to the more elusive characters, and it is the inexplicable elements of their behaviour that give the novel its ominous atmosphere, but for readers curious for the full story, parts may disappoint by being too evasive.
But the language and imagery are lush, cinematic and at times surreal, while the narrative twists and turns between past and present maintain the pace and suspense until the final page. Amity & Sorrow is a powerful and accomplished début; creepy, original and enthralling.
I’m already looking forward to Peggy Riley’s next novel. And in the meantime, I’ll be re-reading this one.