A musk of sex and menace soaks three narrative strands, expertly braided.
This taut, harrowing novel opens in italics and in the voice of Kay Norton, a cynical white journalist in Uganda having desultory sex and tracking the atrocities of a warlord called General Christmas: “Whatever we printed simply fed his hunger for publicity. He had no insights, he had no grand plan, no sense of justice. He was just another asshole with a gun.” But unlike Finn's tour de force The Gloaming (2016), the bulk of this book lies outside Africa, unspooling in picturesque rural Vermont, where two desperate people are mired: Ben Comeau, a logger/heroin dealer, and Kay, now Kay Ward, ambivalent mother of two certain she smells her husband’s infidelity, imagining his lover “waiting for him in Amsterdam or Dublin, wherever his flight hubbed through. She was issuing a flurry of ardent texts. She was shaving her legs.” Kay has her own distractions, registering Ben: “For she felt the smile, where he aimed it, way down low.” But Kay is more intent on her absent landlord, Frank Wilson, and the creepy totems of violence surrounding her. Finn writes with a phrasing flare on par with Lauren Goff’s: a junkie rests “in the easy hammock of her high”; a mute boy’s unexpected laugh blossoms into “a foreign sound, like a migrant bird blown off course.” The author is excellent at contrasting the snug nature of beauty and horror—the pretty nails of a social worker point out the unspeakable in a child abuse document—even as Finn mines her characters for motives. Kay considers asking General Christmas “about his influences—Marx, Castro, Donald Trump?” Her curiosity and dread drive the novel and move her toward a terrifying denouement. She is at the mercy of a conflicted man who “feels the hissing pleasure of spite: to hurt for hurting’s sake.” Finn puts her readers on the knife’s edge.
A reckless woman in a spiky story of violence flirts with the possibility of redemption.