The Underneath, Melanie Finn 2016

This book was a finalist for The Vermont Book Award in 2017 and deservedly so.  If the novelist’s job is to create an alternative, credible, and engaging world filled with memorable characters that make the reader temporarily forget real life, Finn has admirably succeeded.  The Northeast Kingdom of Vermont with its lakes, deep woods, narrow dirt roads, falling down farmhouses, and extreme poverty is in many ways the center of this book.  Finn populates this setting with a startlingly vivid cast of characters in two story lines that intertwine and tragically intersect:  Kay, the intrepid war correspondent on vacation from London with her two children; Ben, scarred by an abusive childhood, dealing heroin, clear cutting the woods, and desperately hoping to save a young boy; Ammon, one of the most evil fictional characters I’ve encountered; and many others.  This tale is not a cake-walk—-incest, child abuse, opioid addiction, rape, murder, and other forms of violence and mayhem fill the pages in settings from Africa to Vermont.  But, the writing is strong, the stories hang together, and, although there were times when I just couldn’t continue reading, the outcome was worth the effort.