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Author: Rivers Solomon
Genre: Gothic | Speculative Fiction | Suspense
Publication Date: May 4th, 2021
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Maybe it was hard to give the world your best when the world always gave you its worst.
Vern—seven months pregnant and desperate to escape the strict religious compound where she was raised—flees for the shelter of the woods. There, she gives birth to twins, and plans to raise them far from the influence of the outside world.
But even in the forest, Vern is a hunted woman. Forced to fight back against the community that refuses to let her go, she unleashes incredible brutality far beyond what a person should be capable of, her body wracked by inexplicable and uncanny changes.
To understand her metamorphosis and to protect her small family, Vern has to face the past, and more troublingly, the future—outside the woods. Finding the truth will mean uncovering the secrets of the compound she fled but also the violent history in America that produced it.
This nearly 400 page book unfortunately was not for me, although I can see how other people would love it. It will be one of those books where you either love it or hate it. Unfortunately, I landed on this side. I usually love gothic literature, but i felt this one the author tried to do too much and nothing really got concluded. Sorrowland follows 15 year old Vern, who is heavily pregnant, nearly blind and an albino, while she escapes the cult she grew up in (Cainland). While on the run, she gives birth to twins and decides to live in the forest to raise them as she is skeptical of others and grow up fearing the “white man’s land”.
This book is split up into different parts or sections. It’s told in third person, however I think it was third person through Vern’s lens of the world. Each section was very distinct and if the characters weren’t the same, I would have had a hard time that the sections where from the same book.
The first section is about Vern and her children, named Howling and Feral. The naming of her kids made sense early on. They are secluded in the forest, not far from Cainland, that Vern gave birth in; and there’s no contact with the outside world. Vern is 15-16 and clearly only got the education that was given to her in Cainland. Which given it was about being a submissive wife, I doubt it contained any real survival skills, and the author never really talked about how Vern at that age and with newborns survive and I find it unbelievable that Vern just knew these skills. As the book progresses and despite being raised, living and raising her children in isolation and seclusion, Vern seems to know everything her children ask her and doesn’t seems taken aback about anything she experiences in the “real world” when they leave the forest. Vern also knows how to do everything and get everywhere, despite only leaving the cult grounds on ” chaperoned field trips” and not being able to read or write. This for me is very unbelievable and makes me think the author wrote things in just when it was convenient without looking back on how Vern’s childhood would affect her as an adult. But the author does do this for some aspects, and not for others, and this inconsistency made it hard for me to connect to the story.
After leaving the forest, we transition to section two of the novel, which seems somewhat connected to section one but there is also a disconnect at the same time. Some new characters are introduced which adds some diversity and representation to the novel. But this section of the story has a lot more dialogue and seems to be weighed down by it. The actual plot progresses extremely slowly throughout this section. Vern is no longer a meek little girl, despite her upbringing and isolation this change seems to happen overnight. She’s not shy or subtle about what she believes and theres no room for change. But even this is inconsistent, for example, a character refers to the children as “boys” and then “girls” and Vern says, “They’re not boys/girls they’re CHILDREN.”. I understand the intent, but it’s contradicted as the narration refers to the children with the “he” pronoun instead of using their name or the singular “they/them”. The important topics that are brought up in the novel just don’t work with the fantasy narrative when they are introduced halfway in.
The third part of the novel is what I was expecting to be reading but have it throughout the book not in the last 25%. This section feels like such a different book that the first parts. The mystery and fantasy come into play. Some questions are answered. There’s action and intrigue. But the ending seems too just fall flat. Basically turns into an anti-climatic “that’s that and let’s go” with no repercussions for anything, and seemingly no real conclusion to a lot of the plot points, which I really dislike as it is a standalone novel.
While I appreciate what Rivers Solomon was attempting to do in this novel and the messages and themes they wrote about, I feel like is was too much to tackle within this standalone. The plot seems to disconnected, there is no sense of time in it, and it seems to have random aspects thrown into it at some points throughout the book that were not weaved in to the story but just thrown in. I’m not sure if I’d read another book by Rivers Solomon and I probably won’t be recommending this book to anyone.
I would like to thank NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for sending me a free copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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About Rivers Solomon
RIVERS SOLOMON, a cyborg wannabe and a refugee of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, writes about life in the margins, where they’re much at home.
Their work has appeared in or is forthcoming from the New York Times, Guernica Magazine, Black Warrior Review, the Rumpus, Emrys Journal, Best American Short Stories, and elsewhere. In addition to winning a Firecracker Award and being named a best book of the year by the Guardian, NPR, Chicago Public Library, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly, their debut novel AN UNKINDNESS OF GHOSTS was selected as a Stonewall Honor Book and was nominated for a Lambda, Locus, and Hurston/Wright Award.
Solomon graduated from Stanford University with a BA and the Michener Center for Writers with an MFA, but are currently based in Cambridge, England. Solomon has been shortlisted for the John C. Campbell Award for New Writers.
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