Sorrowland – by Rivers Solomon

Cover of Kindle edition

Vern leaves the woods, hoping to track down Lucy, a long-lost childhood friend and first crush. While her aim proves fruitless, as Lucy is nowhere to be found, she’s able to get in touch with her aunt Bridget, who is also determined to figure out whatever is going on in Cainland and promptly offers Vern all her help and support.

She also introduces her to Gogo, a queer (or to use a more accurate term, wikte) Lakota activist and paramedic, who takes care of Vern’s physical state and even figures out that he symptoms are caused by a fungal infection one that should by all means have been lethal, but that has instead developed a symbiotic relationship with Vern’s body.

While Vern’s mutations and hauntings escalate rather than relenting, to the point that almost her entire body ends up covered with an exoskeleton, she somehow manages to get some control over both; she realises that her hallucinations are no less than memories of personal and historical traumas, brought to her by the fungus and now inhabiting her body and mind.

Vern seems to have found a welcoming refuge for herself and her children, and is even building what looks like a truly loving relationship with Gogo, but her past is still out to get her: Ollie, who’s actually still alive, breaks into Bridget’s home, leading to a high speed chase and to a final confrontation where secret Government plots are revealed, and Vern’s newly mastered fungal powers come into play.

Style – Written in third person limited, Sorrowland follows Vern’s point of view, getting us immersed in her experience in all its raw intensity. Given what’s later revealed as the nature of her powers, her individual experience is at time mixed with her people’s memories, that are however rendered as vividly as her own.

The story is enhanced by its powerful, visionary writing, that doesn’t shy away from brutality, and is deeply rooted in the raw physical sensations that are essential to Vern’s experience.

Plot Structure – The book is divided into three parts, named respectively Kingdom Plantae, Kingdom Fungi and Kingdom Animalia, that focus respectively on Vern’s time in the woods, on her coming to terms with her condition, and on the final confrontation. Each section is fairly distinct in tone pacing, in a way that is however functional to build a crescendo from the spaced out eeriness of the beginning to the action-packed ending.

As for the plot itself, I must say at times it seems to suffer under the weight of its content. Especially in the second half of the novel, the focus is so heavily shifted on delivering a message that narrative consistency somehow is sacrificed in the process, with Vern just “getting” the underlying mystery on instead of figuring it out in a believable way.


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