a novel by
The new novel from Melanie Finn, author of The Gloaming, a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2016, a Vermont Book Award Finalist, and Finalist for The Guardian's "Not the Booker" Prize.
With the assurance and grace of her acclaimed novel The Gloaming—which earned her comparisons to Patricia Highsmith—Melanie Finn returns with a precisely layered and tense new literary thriller.
The Underneath follows Kay Ward, a former journalist struggling with the constraints of motherhood. Along with her husband and two children, she rents a quaint Vermont farmhouse for the summer. The idea is to disconnect from their work-based lifestyle—that had her doggedly pursuing a genocidal leader of child soldiers known as General Christmas, even through Kay's pregnancy and the birth of their second child—in an effort to repair their shaky marriage.
It isn't long before Kay's husband is called away and she discovers a mysterious crawlspace in the rental with unsettling writing etched into the wall. Alongside some of the house's other curiosities and local sleuthing, Kay is led to believe that something terrible may have happened to the home's owners.
Kay's investigation leads her to a local logger, Ben Comeau, a man beset with his own complicated and violent past. A product of the foster system and life-long resident of the Northeast Kingdom, Ben struggles to overcome his situation, and to help an abused child whose addict mother is too incapacitated to care about the boy's plight.
The Underneath is an intelligent and considerate exploration of violence—both personal and social—and whether violence may ever be justified.
"Finn does an excellent job of keeping the reader guessing, and the tension in the narrative always comes across as organic, never manipulative. The Underneath is an excellent thriller, and Finn has a gift for prose that's hard-boiled but not clichéd. Perhaps most important, her characters are true to life... There's much to admire about The Underneath, and Finn's third novel proves that she's deeply original, a writer who's not content with rehashing old tropes that have become overly familiar in some thrillers."
—Michael Schaub, Star Tribune
"The follow up to Finn's smash hit, The Gloaming, The Underneath is a thriller you probably shouldn't read if you live, uh, alone. Kay Ward, a former war journalist, attempts to settle into a calmer life out in the wilds of Vermont. But when her husband is called away on business and she discovers a crawl space underneath their home, Kay becomes worried that something, something horrible, happened to the previous tenants."
—Bustle, '13 Books From Indie Publishers To Look Forward To In 2018'
"[The Underneath] offers glimpses of redemption, hope, and at every turn, natural beauty... a gripping, detailed, satisfying read, a hard, unsparing look at human nature."
—2018 Summer Book Recommendations from Water Street Books
"Filled with the terror of everyday violence, this is a mystery in the making. It’s filled with bits and pieces of the lives of a variety of characters, all thrown together in this stew of a story. From journalistic realities to motherhood and the day-to-dayness of life, we’re led on a journey into the life of Kay Ward who’s soon to learn that the house she is calling home may have had a violent past that can’t be ignored. But is it gone?"
—Linda at Auntie's Books, Spokane, WA
"The minute you open this book, you will be sucked into a liminal space, one that is usually only accessible in the small dark hours of the morning, when the world is asleep and the only light comes from the television shining bluish on the wall. It opens with Kay Ward: increasingly estranged from her husband and children and on the edge of something, she doesn't know what. When she discovers a crawlspace in the isolated farmhouse her family is renting, she keeps it to herself. It's a secret she nurses until she decides to investigate, but her questions have consequences and propel her into the path of people she'd be better off without. Finn's newest is strange and compelling, a haunting reminder that it's not just the violence on the surface we need fear, it's what's underneath."
—Lauren Peugh at Powell's Books, Portland, OR
"Finn’s tense and atmospheric novel (following The Gloaming) flashes back and forth between two periods in the life of journalist Kay Ward... Finn’s dark and gripping meditation depicts how violence can warp a person’s character, and whether, having experienced it, there is any coming back."
"Taking its cue from Finn’s own preoccupations with motherhood and social ills, The Underneath deals with tragedy and its rippling aftermath, and excavates the hows and whys of the pain we inflict on each other... Finn vividly captures the ugliness of opioid addiction and its profound impact on children."
Praise for Melanie Finn's The Gloaming:
"Deeply satisfying. Finn is a remarkably confident and supple storyteller. [The Gloaming] deserves major attention."
—John Williams, New York Times
"In this richly textured, intricately plotted novel, [Finn] assures us that heartbreak has the same shape everywhere. The Gloaming is chillingly cinematic in contrasting East Africa’s exquisite landscape with the region’s human needs. Yet even in a malevolent setting, Finn shows us acts of selflessness and redemption. Her fascination with the duality of Africa — “the most honest place on earth” — shines fiercely."
—Lisa Zeidner, New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice
"A psychologically astute thriller that belongs on the shelf with the work of Patricia Highsmith. Alternating chapters between two continents, the book is brilliant on the pervasiveness of corruption and the murkiness of human motivation. Here is a page-turner that leaves its reader wiser."
—Karen R. Long, Newsday
"Masterfully timed, frightening in its precision and delivery... a haunting story about consequence that spans literal continents. My skin prickled with every chapter. This is a story that explores coping with loss and consequence, its plot spliced with the implicit mystery of those emotions."
"This ambitious novel addresses age-old questions through the story of one woman's abrupt alienation from her own life. It's an immersive, atmospheric read that is difficult to shake."
"Brilliant... [The Gloaming] is a pure example of a literary page-turner, one that begins with an ending and ends with a new beginning, written by a very smart author."
"Excellent. A wonderful book."
"An intense and clever literary thriller."
"A propulsive literary thriller. Finn, who writes with a psychological acuity that rivals Patricia Highsmith's, switches between Europe and Africa in tense alternating chapters, rewarding close attention. The book is terrific... subtle and thrilling. Remarkably well-paced and well-written... Don't expect to be able to set this book down or forget its haunted characters."
—Kirkus Reviews, *starred* review
"[The Gloaming is] intense, raw, a story less about moving on with ones’ life than learning how to live aware of life’s messy, connective tissues. And of course, it’s a testament to the striking writing of its author, Melanie Finn."
"Finn’s sure-footed prose, an intricate, clever plot, and the novel’s powerful examination of cultural divides enrich this story, leading up to its shocking, brilliant conclusion as Pilgrim and the others search for salvation in an unforgiving land."
"Intense, impressive... Told with force, and bracing directness... It's a book that smashes into you."
"I rarely get as invested in the outcome of a novel as I did reading The Gloaming, but the empathies that Melanie Finn evokes in this powerful and unpredictable book are not casual; these traumas could be our own. These characters could be us. And so, the themes are familiar and unyielding: Pain. The past. That flyspeck point of convergence where they meet. The regrettable inevitability of everything that passes after that. And shame. Her prose is hypnotic and knife-precise and at times so beautiful it’s unnerving. I didn’t read this book so much as I experienced it and it will haunt me for a very, very long time."
—Jill Alexander Essbaum, New York Times-bestselling author of Hausfrau
"A thought-provoking novel... deftly set in a world of mercenaries, philanthropists and witch doctors in polyester suits, the book asks how one atones for atrocity."
"There's an eerie, existential quality about Melanie Finn’s new novel... A paean to a magical continent of silent forests, slow, dark rivers, wild green mangroves; a world populated by child ghosts, haunted whites and AK-47-toting rebels. It is through this heart of darkness, a landscape rich in possibilities, that Pilgrim stumbles towards the light."
—New Zealand Herald
"Full of empathy and intelligence... The ending is startlingly optimistic and very moving."
—Sydney Morning Herald
Melanie Finn, author of The Underneath and The Gloaming, was born and raised in Kenya until age 11, when she moved with her family to Connecticut. After studying journalism at NYU, she worked as a freelance journalist and screenwriter for 20 years, living and working in six different countries. In 2004, her first novel, Away From You was published to international acclaim. The following year, she and her husband, the wildlife filmmaker Matt Aeberhard, moved to a remote region of Tanzania to make DisneyNature’s beautiful, haunting flamingo epic, The Crimson Wing. During the filming, Melanie became the medic to the local Masai community and established The Natron Healthcare Project. Her second novel, The Gloaming, was a New York Times Notable Book of 2016, a finalist for the Vermont Book Award and The Guardian's "Not the Booker" Prize. She now lives on a hill in Vermont with Matt, their twin daughters, three Tanzanian mutts and two very old horses.
Inspiration for the book
Driving cross-country with my three-year-old daughters a few years ago, we spent the night at a decrepit motel off the interstate in Oklahoma. The place was trashed—rusting shopping trolleys in the empty pool, mildew on the walls. But it seemed quite busy. Then I realized the “guests” weren’t staying for more than five minutes, there was a dealer on the second floor. On my way out to the car with my girls I saw a young couple scurrying in, tweeking badly. The woman looked at me, and I felt some kind of communication from her—as Ben does in the boo—“down in the earth of the mind.” There was a child in her car, about the age of my two, he sat like a doll, no seatbelt, no expression. I can’t be clear on what his mother was trying to tell me or share—shame, perhaps, at her failure. Perhaps she thought I was another customer. I should have called the cops, I’ve been haunted by the child’s cold face ever since.
Drug abuse is epidemic in our corner of Vermont. There’s this bucolic veneer, but underneath terrible things are happening because of opioids. Our local paper, The Caledonia Record, regularly reports on abandoned children, child abuse and drug busts, side-by-side with stories about the county fair and prize cows. I didn’t want to write a drug novel, but I kept coming back to that motel in Oklahoma, the mysterious interaction with that other mother, and this deeper idea of how we love our children and how we fail them. As mothers, we have our own veneer that we construct and maintain, but in private we sometimes fall apart. Obviously, leaving your child in the car while you shoot up is beyond the pale, but even the best of us do and say things to our children that we regret, we are selfish and unloving, we make terrible choices. How can we confess this, even to our closest friends?
While I began The Underneath with a strong, thrillery plot foremost in my mind, it evolved (often against my will) into a personal exploration of marriage and motherhood, and—I admit here—my own destructive addiction to anger. Kay became my more obvious projection, her isolation as a writer, mother and a wife, the glamorous, mendacious past she can’t let go. But Ben does the dirty work, struggling against the shadows—the terrible things that have been done to him and to his childhood friend, Frank. “Man hands on misery to man,” Philip Larkin wrote; how do the damaged among us become capable, loving parents?
—Melanie Finn, August 7, 2017
Enjoy a sneak peek of select pages from The Underneath! (Use the "full screen" option at bottom right to enlarge the pages):
LIST PRICE: $26.00
PRINT ISBN: 978-1-937512-69-9
DIGITAL ISBN: 978-1-937512-70-5
RELEASE DATE: 5/15/2018
SIZE: 5.5" x 7.5"
Printed in Canada by Marquis, with the following environmental statement:
*Inside printed on Enviro 100% post-consumer EcoLogo certified paper, processed chlorine free and manufactured using biogas energy.
*FSC certified paper (inside and cover).