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Content warning: birth, self harm, teen pregnancy, drowning, child abuse, cult, emotional abuse, blood, gaslighting, drowning, rape, gun violence, hanging, suicide, AIDS
Fifteen-year-old Vern gives birth to twins in the woods after having escaped the religious compound where things were amiss. She seeks to raise them free of that influence, but the hauntings and hunts force her to interact with the forbidden world beyond.
Feral and howling, this brilliant piece of speculative fiction is not one to miss. It is as beautiful as it is raw, and I am truly jealous that I can’t re-experience it for the first time again.
An interview with author Rivers Solomon will be posted on the blog on release day, May 4th 2021.
Sorrowland is by no means an easy read. It starts off with a 15-year-old giving birth in the woods while a fiend hunts her and leaves behind grisly installations that twist motherhood. Then, we’re led through flashbacks and the history of Cainland while seeing events unfold in real time. It’s a lot, but in the best way. So much happens here. It’s a little bit Annihilation, a little bit Lakewood, some parts the arc of most cults’ stories, but it never takes its focus from the central character, Vern.
Each relationship here was so polished. They are complicated. They are messy. Especially the relationship between Vern and her children. It is clear that she loves them something fierce. But toddlers will toddler. Some of my favorite moments were when the three of them learn the world beyond Cainland together. The tension of the children outpacing the parent is so palpable, and it really resonated with me.
Speaking of relationships, this book fucks. There is so much sexuality on-page and implied. It’s great to see a character who is a mother have those wants and needs, but it’s not painted with any moral judgment. It’s just a thing that exists in this experience of the world built by Solomon. The presentation is so seamless and breath-taking.
The context and history woven throughout this novel is perfect. Focusing various atrocities committed by the U.S. government and also what happens when a terrible captain helms the ship of a cult, anecdotes and entire scenes can get heavy. Solomon does not hold the reader’s hand through any of it.