Excerpt from Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Amity & Sorrow

by Peggy Riley

Amity & Sorrow
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2013, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2014, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sharry Wright

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"Sorrow," Mother pleads. "Open the door." But not a sound comes from her.

Finally the man takes a sledgehammer to the doorknob. He batters away until he smashes it off and then there is only a hole in the door. The man calls through it, tries to stick his hand into it, but it won't fit. "You go," he tells the boy, but his hand is too big, too.

"You," he says to Amity.

Amity cowers until Mother pulls her out of her skirts. Then Amity creeps toward the door and bends to look in, sure she will find Sorrow staring back at her or her finger aimed to give Amity's eye a poke. But there is only darkness. She slides her hand through the hole, slowly, craning her wrist to find the bolt. "I'm sorry," she whispers. She turns it with a click.

And then she is being pulled back, out of the way, and the man and her mother are yanking at the door and it is opening. And only then is Sorrow revealed, there in the bathroom, there in her awful red glory.

The man goes inside to pull her up from the floor, as if he doesn't mind the blood on the tiles, the blood at her hem, the blood on her skirts, or the blood in her hands. He catches hold of the bloody strap hanging from her wrist. "Jesus, girl, what you gone and done?"

Mother screams then, "Don't touch her!" And she rushes in to Sorrow, clogs slipping on the blood, and she grabs hold of Sorrow, to push her from the man. And the man grabs her mother, shaking her and shouting, "What's wrong with you, woman? What's wrong with you people?" And Amity is saying, "She's all right, she's all right now," and the man's saying Jesus, and her mother's saying don't, and then there's only Sorrow, rising up from the tiles and coming slowly to her clogs with her palms open, bloody, to quiet them all.

"Behold," she says. "Behold."

Two sisters walk, hand in bloody hand, through the darkness, following a man and a boy they do not know, being followed by a mother. They walk the path that loops away from the gas station and the dirt road and the stump where the car crashed, the path that leads them between piles of trash and junk and the far, dark fields. They cannot see what these things are, these shapes beside them, these washtubs with no bottoms, these bentwood chairs with no seats, these window frames and paint cans and stacks of tractor tires. They might be anything in this darkness. Maybe low, metal monsters, crouching in clumps and clusters to snatch at passing skirts with rusty claws. When they see them they'll know that this is a land that throws nothing away, a land once made of small family farms like this one, a land now surrounded by industrial-scale cropland, a highway, and hog farms. When the wind blows from the right direction, you can smell the stink of them; you can hear the squeal.

When they reach the house, the three females fear it. Not for the look of the place, a gap-toothed, rough-hewn, clapboard two-story, painted white a long, long time ago. Not for the four windows, up and down, dark and empty as sockets. Not for the porch that sags beneath it or the old, scabby tree that grows to the side of it, branches arching over to smother the roof. They would fear any house.

The man invites them inside, but they all of them shake their heads. To his offer of a bath or a coffee, Mother will say no, but she will accept a couple of his blankets, a tin bowl for washing, a plastic pitcher of fresh water. When the man says he can run Sorrow into town, see a doctor in the morning, she tells him, "She's fine."

"She ain't fine," the man says, head bent to look down the bloodied front of Sorrow and the wrist strap, dangling. "Why's that thing on her?"

"It hasn't hurt her," Mother says.

"I see you bleedin'. I see this strap on your daughter and I see all this blood. You can't tell me she ain't been hurt."

Mother shakes her head. "I haven't hurt her. She hasn't been hurt. It isn't the strap. There was a - there was a child. And she's lost it."

Excerpted from Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley. Copyright © 2013 by Peggy Riley. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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