Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Debut novel falls well short of expectations

  • Print

THERE are few things more disappointing than a promising plot that fails to deliver. Unfortunately, this highly touted debut novel by American writer Peggy Riley offers just that sort of tale.

The novel opens with two sisters, Amity and Sorrow, sitting side by side in the back of a car, a white strap binding their hands together. In front, their mother, Amaranth, drives the girls down empty stretches of highway for days without sleep.

They are on the run from Amaranth's husband and the girls' father, the leader of a polygamous, fundamentalist cult, and his 49 other wives.

After days without a break, their mother crashes the car into a tree off the highway somewhere in the middle of Oklahoma. A farmer named Bradley comes to their rescue and reluctantly lets Amaranth and her daughters sleep on his porch while they figure out where to go next. But they are always looking back over their shoulders for the man who is coming after them.

As the women settle into the farm, we begin to learn about their troubled past while they attempt to reconcile where their lives have taken them.

This is part of where the story goes wrong. Too much of it takes place on the farm, where very little actually happens. The only really glowing parts happen in brief flashbacks, where Amaranth details the strange and difficult life she experienced under her husband Zachariah's thumb.

But the lack of any real details about what should have been the most interesting part of the novel are noticeably absent. For example, Riley fudges the denomination of the religious cult.

After what seems like a rather short time, Amaranth takes up with the farmer Bradley. It's a bit difficult to fathom why woman who has been emotionally, psychologically and sexually abused for decades would jump into bed with the first man to cross her path.

The story also suffers from a lack of character development. We learn nothing about Zachariah and how he came to be a man with 50 wives or Amaranth and how she ended up in his nest to begin with.

Sorrow is simply an empty husk, reciting religious doctrine without any real insight into what motivates her, while Bradley also remains elusive, seeming to act only as a place-filler throughout.

Amity is the only character we get to know on any deep level and thus she becomes the only one worth caring about.

Riley's prose is also stilted and clunky. For example, she writes, "The field is calling to her, calling from the old man's window, calling from the house. It calls from the dirt-strewn threshold."

Her tendency to repeat words and phrases over and over again makes the story feel clumsy. The novel doesn't redeem itself until the last 30 pages when the women return to the cult, but by then, the reader will likely have already given up.

Nisha Tuli is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2013 J8

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

The greening of Elphaba the Wicked Witch in Wicked

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • MIKE.DEAL@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 110621 - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 -  Doug Chorney, president Keystone Agricultural Producers flight over South Western Manitoba to check on the condition of farming fields. MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
my2011poy
  • A Great Horned Owl that was caught up in some soccer nets in Shamrock Park in Southdale on November 16th was rehabilitated and returned to the the city park behind Shamrock School and released this afternoon. Sequence of the release. December 4, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Did you suffer any damages from Thursday's storm?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google