** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **
Sorrowland opens with our protagonist, Vern Fields, out in the woods giving birth to twins all by her lonesome. Yeah, that’s an opening that will grab your attention.
If that were not enough, there is a malevolence — Vern calls it the Fiend — in these woods that harrows Vern and taunts her with offerings of baby-symbolic death: constant dead animals with accompanying baby accessories.
What we learn of Vern in the first half of the book is downright horrifying. She is a 15 year-old Black albino, very visually impaired, and raised in (and escaped from) a Black-centric compound/cult/commune known as the Blessed Acres of Cain.
I hate reviewing books where I feel like any little bit of detail I give could give away a major plot surprise, and Sorrowland is definitely this kind of story. There are minutiae galore, but, in an amazing display of story organization, Mx. Solomon has a wonderful little path for each and every one of them. The “everything in its right place” person in me adores this.
Ok, back to Vern. Over the next few years, Vern raises her two children — Howling and Feral — in the wild woods with zero human contact aside from the continued harrowing by the Fiend. Howling and Feral grow bigger and become more wily and rambunctious in their free environment, but Vern senses that she is going through some changes.
All the while, she is in constant fear of being discovered by someone who will drag her and her children back to the Blessed Acres of Cain. Back to the horrors of Ascensions, daily “vitamin” shots, and general tyranny under the gaze of her husband who is the leader of this commune.
And that’s it! That’s all I’m letting you know. Just let me tell you that shit definitely escalates from there.
I’ll be brutally honest, when I started it, I wasn’t really in the right headspace to appreciate the nuance of how this story was setting up. It wasn’t until I realized that there was a much bigger tale here than one of just mere survival that I was totally missing. Mx. Solomon deftly sets up a grim tableau and then proceeds to stack piece after piece upon the stage in a slow build of mystery, intrigue and mild horror until it seems that no outcome will be remotely acceptable in the “happy ending” category.
For me, Sorrowland is a story about the myriad aspects and facets of self-reliance. Never before have I experienced a character that so defines the concept of “grey area” in personality and actions as Vern Fields. I often found myself shaking my head at her sheer obstinance, but, as I began to realize that Vern only trusted Vern (and sometimes not even that), her methodical approach in a fuzzy world was what she equates with survival.
Don’t even get me started on electricity food.