Amity & Sorrow, Peggy Riley

Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: April 16 2013

From the publisher:

A mother and her daughters drive for days without sleep until they crash their car in rural Oklahoma. The mother, Amaranth, is desperate to get away from someone she’s convinced will follow them wherever they go–her husband. The girls, Amity and Sorrow, can’t imagine what the world holds outside their father’s polygamous compound. Rescue comes in the unlikely form of Bradley, a farmer grieving the loss of his wife. At first unwelcoming to these strange, prayerful women, Bradley’s abiding tolerance gets the best of him, and they become a new kind of family. An unforgettable story of belief and redemption, Amity & Sorrow is about the influence of community and learning to stand on your own.

Given the nature of the material, I was not expecting a light little tale of joy and contentment. The publisher’s description doesn’t really give you a sense of how extremely dark the first chapters of the book are, nor how awful the circumstances from which this family is trying to escape have been.

Amity and Sorrow are the names of the two daughters, the young girls Amaranth is trying to rescue from a particularly sordid religious cult involving emotional and sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of women and children, terror and bondage.

The first few chapters of the book are so grim I almost stopped reading because I was finding it more than a little stomach turning. I have trouble … a lot of trouble … dealing with pain and abuse of any living creature. But it’s worse dealing with children and animals. Amity and Sorrow are children and the degree to which they have both been horribly abused is never entirely laid out, but is certainly inferred with sufficient detail to make one feel that more detail would be over the top.

Just as I was about to close the book, it started to go in another direction, to a kind of redemption and restoration of light where there has previously been only darkness and fear.

It is very well written. For a first novel, it’s quite extraordinary. It would be exceptional even if it were the 20th novel, but what can only imagine what this author may produce in the future. The description is paralyzing in its ability to evoke raw emotion in the reader.

This is not a book for children. It’s also not a book for anyone who wants to keep his or her reading light. But, if you like to occasionally venture over to the dark side, visit the depths of depravity of which people are capable, try Amity & Sorrow. Although the theme of redemption is strong, the back story of despair, fear, and evil is equally strong … so make sure you’re ready for a trip into a nightmare.

It’s available in hardcopy, paperback and Kindle from Amazon and I’m sure from other vendors as well.

Nesting Swans

Back at the pond, the important business of nest-building continues. It’s family time on the water where hopefully, Mr. and Mrs. Mute-Swan will take care of business and fill their nest with cygnets. Their babies will become the new generation of swans on Whitins pond.

The war between the Canada geese and the mute swans is far from over, but life has its own imperatives.Time out for love. It’s the mating season.

Later, time enough to go attack those demon geese.

Those halcyon days of yore or whatever

Now that my high school reunion has passed and I’m no longer besieged by nostalgia from a half century ago, I feel safe in saying it. I haven’t any idea in what world my classmates were living, but I’m sure it wasn’t the same one I inhabited.

I understand that time can cast a gentler light, a rosy glow over events that took place in one’s youth … but there’s a difference between a rosy glow and a full revision.

For months, I have been bombarded by email from people with whom I attended high school. They are sure they remember me. They recall the fun stuff we did together. After giving it careful consideration, I have concluded they are deranged, on drugs, or senile. Whatever it is they think they remember, it didn’t happen.

Who are these people? Why do they keep talking about relationships that never existed? These people were not my friends. I remember them. They didn’t like me. They either ignored me, made fun of me, or conscientiously ostracized me. I belonged to no cliques, no fun groups. I wasn’t invited to parties. I was not popular.

I had a few friends, but these people who are so happily remembering me? They weren’t among the few people I counted as friends.

Did someone — me or them — slip through a wormhole into an alternate reality? That must be it.

High school was not a good time for me. Neither was junior high school or elementary school, for that matter. Even amongst the unpopular kids, I was unpopular. By the time I had survived junior high, I’d learned how to be invisible. Attending a really huge school helped. It was so big and over-crowded if you kept your head down, no one would notice you.

I was a klutzy kid with no athletic prowess, I avoided the humiliation of the athletically challenged by claiming I didn’t know how to swim. Every semester, I showed up at swimming class.

“You again?” said the coach. “Just keep out-of-the-way,” It was a win-win for me. I got an hour a day of private swim time alone in the deep end of the pool and completely avoided gym class. I believe I was technically on the swim team, but I never actually swam in an event. I was a bench warmer. That was fine. I liked the water, but I wasn’t going to win any medals.

All I had to do was get acceptable grades, not fail math courses after which I could go to college. I heard from other survivors that in college I might meet people who I’d like and might like me. That sounded too good to be true, but I had it on good authority. It turned out to be true so I guess making it through high school alive was worth it.

This was not the first time I’ve had to fend off a reunion. I dodged the 10th, 15th, 20th and 25th. I think there was a 40th too. But like a bad penny, it keeps coming back to haunt me. On the up side, we are now all so old, there is very little likelihood of any more such grand events.

I have repeatedly gone over this in my mind. I know with absolute certainty that high school wasn’t a fun time. It wasn’t only not fun for me. It wasn’t fun for most of us. We were young, hormonal, lost, unsure where we were going or how we would get there. Everyone felt ugly or deformed. Many of us had dreadful home lives that we hid from everyone else.

Yet now those years have become one long golden memory. At the reunion I did not attend, they actually got together to sing the school song. Never once in the years I attended did we ever actually sing the school song. It was a joke. We used to make fun of it because it was so dumb. Now, it’s a warm fuzzy memory. Bizarre.

My husband says this is typical of reunions. He says that when he went to his reunion — he actually attended one — people were reminiscing about the great times they had together, none of which he could remember nor could he recall the people claiming to have been there with him.

He says people need to pretend that they had a great time. It makes them feel better.

Not me. Even after fifty years I can’t think of a single reason to revisit a time and place I would just as soon have skipped in the first place. Oh, and to put this in perspective, our high school prom was cancelled due to no one but me and my date signing up for it. So exactly how terrific was the experience really?

Does pretending the past was perfect when it wasn’t even close make you feel better about your life? It doesn’t work for me. But maybe I’m the one with a problem. What do you think?

And now, a word from our sponsor:

Daily Prompt: Cringe-Worthy – Funny you should ask!

As long as I can remember, I have hated watching people make fools of themselves. I was probably no more than 6 when I found myself running from the room at one of many episodes of “Lucy” in which she does something humiliating.


Rather than finding it funny, I find myself identifying with the embarrassment. I can’t help but think how awful I would feel if it were me. Humiliation is a horrible feeling, often impossible to forget no matter how many years pass.

Humor that depends on embarrassing or making fun of people does not make me laugh. I love witty dialogue, literary allusion, puns. I love parody and all kinds of cleverness, but with the exception of villainous bad guys who more than deserve whatever they get, I never want to see anyone embarrassed. I hate cruelty, mental or physical and cannot watch it, even when I know it’s fake.

Not surprisingly, I was one of the kids who got teased and bullied. Way too sensitive. It’s 60 years later; I’m still too sensitive.

‘Oblivion’ is a beautiful yet flawed exercise in science-fiction filmmaking

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The arrival of the spring marks the slow roll out of the big budget tent pole movies into multiplexes across the globe. Big budget sci-fi epics are really a dicey proposition even at the best of times as they tend to be populated with some of the pickier fans out there. “Oblivion” takes us to a point in the future, where the planet is ravaged after a cataclysmic war and the human race is doing whatever it can to survive.

Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is one of the last drone repairmen stationed on Earth. Part of a massive operation to extract vital resources after decades of war with a terrifying threat known as the Scavs. Jack’s mission is nearly complete and he and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) will get to join the remaining survivors in their new home. However when he rescues a beautiful stranger (Olga Kurylenko) from a downed spacecraft, , he begins to question everything he knows.

A great vehicle for Cruise but it could have used some script work… Photo credit:

Co-writer and Director Joseph Kosinski certainly has an eye for the genre, as “Oblivion” is a stunning and bold looking film that doesn’t shy away from painting a big picture filled with sweeping yet barren landscapes and stunning cinematography, sadly the script could have probably used as much effort put into it as the visuals did. The narrative dragged in several parts with dialogue that ranged from clunky to downright laughable as the filmmakers were manufacturing much more melodrama then was actually necessary. It made it hard to generate a genuine connection with the characters, everything was insanely beautiful but much like the scorched earth that the characters were maintaining and protecting it was also incredibly sterile as Kosinski and company borrowed imagery from at least half a dozen of the more popular sci-films from the past 30 years. Stylish and wonderful, but not exactly ground breaking almost playing like a greatest hits from the genre that tries far too hard. Thankfully there are some still some familiar faces to keep us engaged as an audience.

Tom Cruise too often gets a bad rap for being a substandard actor, but to be perfectly honest when is the last time anybody has seen him perform in anything truly terrible? We simply haven’t since he works as the solid, brooding everyman kind of hero and holds his own in this character driven humanistic sci-fi drama. Andrea Riseborough is a consistently under rated actress how more than holds her own opposite Cruise and they have excellent on screen chemistry. Olga Kurylenko is a classic beauty in the Hollywood mold who will manage to always look at home in a genre or action movie setting. She is slowly but surely coming into her own as a leading lady and if she keeps her career trajectory moving in the right direction, there will be nothing but good things ahead. Melissa LeoMorgan Freeman, Zoe Bell and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau round out the ensemble but are all fairly wasted, adding little to nothing to the overall narrative.

“Oblivion” isn’t a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, but with a weak script that leans on too much manufactured melodrama and a plethora of borrowed imagery it isn’t necessarily all that great either. Worth a look if you feel like getting roped into seeing in glorious and expansive IMAX as Joseph Kosinski is certainly a huge visual talent but he just hasn’t nailed down the storytelling aspect of filmmaking quite yet.

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

There have been some pretty good sci fi movies recently. I’m grateful. It was a very long drought!

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