The Northeast Kingdom is known for its pastoral beauty — but that’s only part of the view of the region presented in Melanie Finn’s latest novel, The Underneath. Her characters exist in the brutal underbelly of rural Vermont that’s ravaged by the opioid epidemic.
Finn, who lives in the Northeast Kingdom, said she wanted to show the realities of her community where, she said, nearly every family has been affected by drug addiction.
“I just wanted to be able to kind of open the door to some conversations,” she said.
Finn said she wrote most of the book during the winter months, and largely while she was alone. This isolation informed the narrative of The Underneath.
"I think that sort of sense of isolation, certainly that [the character] Kay experiences, was amplified and almost quite frightening," she said. "Kind of sitting there day after day, feeling like I was going a little bit mad."
The resilience of her Northeast Kingdom neighbors is something Finn said she hopes is evident in her latest work.
“I do hope the stories that I tell in The Underneath feel real,” she said, “but they also say something about how hard people work to overcome circumstances, whether they are emotional or economic.”
Finn also drew on her experiences living and working abroad to round out her novel. Finn, who worked as a journalist in African countries including Uganda, said she witnessed horrific things, some of which made it into the book.
She also spoke with VPR about her time living in Tanzania, which inspired her to create the Natron Healthcare Project, an organization that educates people in remote African regions about their health care options.
Finn’s other literary works include Away from You and The Gloaming. The latter was a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2016, a 2017 Vermont Book Award finalist and a finalist for The Guardian's "Not the Booker" Prize.
Finn will be reading from her new book at Norman Williams Library in Woodstock on Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 6 p.m.