“All this time she’d thought death was coming for her, but perhaps it was she who was death coming for everyone else.”
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.
Hello, strangers! It’s been a crazy few weeks, though I am not complaining because it’s the good kind of busy. I cannot, however, let the month of June pass by without recommending an LGBTQIA read. Indeed if I was only allowed to recommend just ONE book for PRIDE month, it will be Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon. I read this last May, and I was so overwhelmed by it that it took me longer to find the right words to describe how much I loved it. There are books that I can’t even begin to review because of their perfection, but I’ll try if only to convince more people to read it.
“Better not to belong at all than belong in a cage.”
A lot of praises have been said for this book, and one that really attracted me to it is how it was labeled genre-bending. True enough, readers will never know where Rivers Solomon will take them, but you will definitely enjoy the ride. To me this novel started with strong dystopian vibes, evolving into a naturalist coming-of-age story, an action drama cult story, and then twisting yet again to a science fiction adventure with a dash of gothic fantasy and horror. If I tell you there’s even a bit of romance you probably won’t believe me but it’s true.
“She was a girl made of aches and she flung her body at the world in the hopes that something, anything, might soothe the tendernesses.”
This epic novel is told in three parts, aptly named after Kingdom Plantae, Kingdom Fungi, and Kingdom Animalia. “Kingdom” in science is considered to be the highest taxonomic rank used in classifying organisms. I loved how the author used the classifications to maintain a naturalist theme all throughout the book, while effectively segregating the evolving parts of the story accordingly. It’s not hard to imagine Sorrowland as a trilogy, but I’m glad the author chose to write everything in one book. Though I wouldn’t mind a sequel, or two.
“People were wrong. Rules, most of the time, favored not what was right, but what was convenient or preferable to those in charge.”
Sorrowland is unforgiving from page one, and continues in a kind of intensity that allows only a second or two for the reader to breathe and catch up. It savagely tears down anything that stands in the way of telling its truth, be it systemic racism, bad politics, gender discrimination, police brutality, and any kind of authority that uses its power for oppressing people. In short, my ideal kind of fairy tale. At the center of this tale is my hero Vern — fierce and unstoppable. She is one of the most unique characters I’ve ever met, and not just because she is a genderqueer albino with a nystagmus condition (involuntary rhythmic movement of the eyes); but because she has the kind of worldview that I wish more people would have. Aside from a having “a mind sharp enough to cut the world in half”, Vern is someone who sees the world without rose-tinted glasses but rather sees both the beauty and ugliness of it all. In spite of this she is still able to love everything deeply. She is an activist and her sense of justice is so pure and inspiring. On a side note, I love that the author did not use Vern’s conditions as mere embellishments without meaning. Vern really made me see the world differently and reminded me of the simple things that are worth appreciating and fighting for.
“If Vern could ever be said to have a religion, that would be it: the bigness of it all, the mutability.”
The book starts with Vern escaping from the cultish sect she grew up in after realizing that not everything is quite what they seem. She flees into the forest alone and gives birth to two wonderful children who will both grow up in the woods. She will name them Howling and Feral. As a mother myself I enjoyed reading about her relationship with her children immensely. From there the story will evolve to stunning heights but Howling and Feral’s quirky personalities and their love and loyalty to their mother will remain as one of the best parts of the book for me.
“Neither could say the word Mam or Mama, but they spoke it with their every breath and need. They sweat Mam, blinked Mam, fussed Mam, hungered Mam, gurgled Mam, spit up Mam, shat Mam, pissed Mam, misbehaved Mam.”
“…when one or the other of the children woke up to complain about how horrible it was being a baby, Vern would be there to tell them it only got worse, as well as to give them milk to make that fact less upsetting.”
“Each one was a reminder of her failure. She might as well not have birthed them at all— kept them wrapped in her womb flesh. She was no better than her own mam, who’d raised her in a den of falsities and ignorance.”
Rivers Solomon’s writing is hypnotic and their voice is righteous without being preachy. Seamlessly intertwined with all the fantastical elements is the author’s deadpan humor. In the end the book was so empowering, with its activist and political themes serving as a call to arms. Be it to go out in the streets, or just to be an agent of change in small little ways, every day of our lives. It is our responsibility to work harder in creating a better world. We are all part of the same Earth, and everyone who has ever walked the planet will never really leave us and will continue to exist on the dark but precious spaces of our hearts and minds. So we continue on fighting not only for ourselves, but for our past and our future.
My eternal gratitude to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the opportunity to read what is now surely one of my all-time favorite books!
About the Author
Rivers Solomon is a dyke, an anarchist, a she-beast, an exile, a shiv, a wreck, and a refugee of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Fae writes about life in the margins, where fae’s much at home.
In addition to appearing on the Stonewall Honor List and winning a Firecracker Award, Solomon’s debut novel AN UNKINDNESS OF GHOSTS (Akashic Books) was a finalist for a Lambda, a Hurston/Wright, a Tiptree, and a Locus Award, among others. Solomon’s second book, THE DEEP (Saga Press), based on the Hugo-nominated song of the same name by experimental hip-hop group clipping, was the winner of the 2020 Lambda Award and is on the shortlist for a Nebula, Locus, and Hugo award. Faer third book, SORROWLAND (MCD/FSG) is forthcoming May 4, 2021.
Solomon’s short work appears in or is forthcoming from Black Warrior Review, the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, Guernica, Best American Short Stories, Tor.com, Best American Horror and Dark Fantasy, and elsewhere.
Rivers Solomon uses “fae/faer/faer/faers/faerself” and “they, them, their, theirs, themself” pronouns.
Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published May 4th 2021 by MCD
Original Title Sorrowland
ISBN0374266778 (ISBN13: 9780374266776)
Edition Language English
Genres: Fantasy | Horror | Fiction | LGBT | Science Fiction | Gothic | Speculative Fiction