Rivers Solomon, author of the critically acclaimed An Unkindness of Ghosts and The Deep, pens a riveting narrative about autonomy and what defines freedom. In an America that mirrors the racial injustices and social disparities today, Sorrowland shows the physical and metaphysical transformation of an individual wronged by the system.
Vern gives birth to her twin sons after escaping from the compound called Cainland. Someone she calls the fiend hunts her down through the woods where she makes camp and cares for her babies Howling and Feral. Instead of settling in a nearby town, Vern, a teenager at the novel’s start, keeps to the forest. She relies on the water, plants, and animals for sustenance. When the pain and physical changes in her body (since running away from Cainland, also known as the Blessed Acres) become harder to bear, she decides to find Lucy, her friend who had escaped from the compound years ago.
Vern navigates unfamiliar terrain, her children even more bewildered at the world outside their forest home. She eventually finds where Lucy supposedly lives, but sees that the address has led her to Bridget, who tells her that Lucy has vanished several years ago. Vern stays with Bridget and her niece GoGo (both Lakota), and as she tries to adjust to the stability, she continues to undergo physical changes. And she learns that she’s transforming into a being of superhuman strength and vitality.
Solomon’s evocative prose unfolds Vern’s story, an albino Black woman, partly blind and a Lesbian, as she traverses the changes in her life and body. She encounters hauntings of people and past memories, the withdrawal symptoms from the drugs that the compound had forced in her. The compound’s psychological hold on her, including her husband’s (Reverend Sherman) abuse, causes her to second guess herself in certain situations.
The story provides glimpses of Vern’s life in the strictly religious compound Cainland, which originates from a Black Nationalist movement against white supremacy. Initially, a community intended to empower Black people, Cainland (where they worship the God of Cain) reinforces oppressive values from white America. The pleasures of the outside world, along with queerness and processed foods, are seen as the white man’s evil. Even after her escape, Vern struggles with her sexuality and other “sins.”
I’ve received an ARC of this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Author: Brahidaliz Martinez
Brahidaliz (pronounced Bra-da-leez) is a 2019 graduate of American University’s MFA in creative writing program. Their cross-genre chapbook, Coquí’s Song, is forthcoming (2023) from Mason Jar Press.
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