Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon is a unique combination of science fiction, Gothic fantasy and American history. Sorrowland is the novel of young Vern, a pregnant teenager escaping the religious compound where she was raised. Vern winds up a resident of the woods, giving birth to an offspring alone on the very night a devil comes to discover her. Vern brings up her two little youngsters in the wood, battling both the pull of the community that is reluctant to let her go and the changes that are occurring in her body.
Sorrowland has clear speculative and supernatural components. There is a mysterious, shape-shifting devil that chases Vern. The hauntings of dead youngsters and others that followed Vern into the wood. There are weird changes in Vern’s own body. Despite these speculative components, this story is very much about the real world.
Rivers Solomon worked well in weaving together Vern’s real world and difficulties with the stunning things that are happening around her. This weaving is done in such a way that leaves us questioning what is real and what is not. The line between the real world and fantasy turns out to be exceptionally blurred, along with our meanings of ideas which we may have been educated have extremely clear limits.
Rivers likewise weaves historical issues into Sorrowland, showing us that what we consider history keeps on affecting today. Colorism, racism the treatment of religious gatherings, the uses of people (particularly dark people) are a couple of the bits of the past that follow Vern into the woods, eventually compelling her back out to deal with what she trusted she had abandoned.
While I felt the power of the story, and loved the characters, I did struggle a smudge with the utilization of one of the fantastical components. Hauntings follow Vern into the forested areas, and keeping in mind that Rivers clarifies why they are happening and investigates what they have to bring to the table Vern, the utilization of these hauntings felt somewhat convenient in spots, particularly in the last 20% or so of the story. What the hauntings uncovered here was significant, yet the way to uncover happened felt a bit out of place for me, and really pulled me out of this high-impact part of the story. I wish that Rivers had discovered another approach to get us that required peace of history without breaking the forward progress of Vern’s story.
Overall, Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon was a really good read. It is a speculative, creepy story woven through and around history.