Amaranth is the first of the fifty wives of the prophet, and mother of two daughters, Amity and Sorrow. Sorrow is the eldest and holds a special place at their temple. She is the oracle, the one who transmits the word of God to the congregation. Amity is the younger sister, less zealous and sweeter tempered, with a gift for healing.
The children don’t go to school, don’t know their address, don’t know how to read, don’t know anything not decreed by the prophet. This ignorance is encouraged as a way of keeping the group off the radar of outside society, who might object and attempt to intervene, especially when it comes to the children.
But the prophet’s behavior is increasingly erratic, and a police officer does come knocking at the door. The ensuing confrontation spins out of control and Amaranth, fearing for their lives, takes a car and flees with her children.
It takes all Amaranth’s courage to leave, and she is haunted by the feeling that the prophet is in pursuit. She is unused to the outside world, not to mention driving, and soon crashes in the area of Oklahoma known as no man’s land. There they are offered refuge by Bradley, a struggling farmer, and Dust, his ward.
Amaranth struggles to rebuild a life for her family. This is a hard task, complicated even more by Sorrow’s fury at being forced to leave the only home she’s ever known. She is determined to return to what she knows is her rightful place as a religious leader and is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve this, no matter the consequences.
The resulting struggle between Amaranth and Sorrow is primal and riveting. Amity is caught in the middle, which turns out to be a dangerous place.
This is not an easy story, but I found its depiction of life within a cult gripping and memorable. Peggy Riley’s writing is lean and evocative. The narrative switches back and forth between the present day and flashbacks of how Amaranth came to join the prophet and what finally made her leave. The wonder of Amity at the outside world is beautifully conveyed. The portrait of the world of Amaranth and the prophet gives the reader a taste of a world with few familiar moorings. A memorable story of faith and redemption.