I opened The Gloaming by Melanie Finn to page one without knowing anything about it other than that it was delivered by my very favorite publishing company, Two Dollar Radio—a high enough recommendation for any book. What unfolded as I turned the pages—in a slow creep, masterfully timed, frightening in its precision and delivery—was a haunting story about consequence that spans literal continents. We are introduced to Pilgrim Jones (her name courtesy of hippie parents), whose identity is anchored in being the wife of a world famous human rights lawyer. She and her husband live in an idyllic Swiss town, where she lingers after her husband leaves her for another woman. This manageable tragedy opens a floodgate for more of it, and Pilgrim is involved in a car accident that kills three children.
The cold want for revenge in the village and the chill of being hated drives Pilgrim to escape under the guise of a safari in Africa. Abruptly, she abandons the safari group in a far-flung village in Tanzania in a way that might be random; Pilgrim herself muses, “It could be that I have nowhere to go, so I am here.” The narrative bounces back and forth between the Switzerland of the past—where Pilgrim pieces together her crime and grapples with her abandonment—and the Tanzania of the present—where she faces its consequences. Finn's writing illustrates that she knows this terrain—both the physical landscapes of Africa and Europe, as well as the emotional terrain of grief.
After several weeks in the village, a box of limbs of a murdered albino person shows up, the evidence of a powerful curse. Without knowing any of her history, everyone knows that the box's contents are for Pilgrim. Haunted by eerie scenes with a Ukrainian mercenary, children torturing a puppy and the skillfully doled out language of a building mystery, my skin prickled with every chapter. The looming fallout of both the accident and doomed romance crept silently but inevitably—building to something both human and horrible. This is a story that explores coping with loss and consequence, its plot spliced with the implicit mystery of those emotions. Finn begs the the questions: How do we depart from grief? How do we right atrocity? In the world of The Gloaming loss leads to violence every time—and Pilgrim faces consequences both allegorical and real.
As Pilgrim winds through Tanzania, ghosts are on her heels and readers will feel looming retribution (though we might hope it never catches up to her) in every encounter, conversation and long walk home. Rife with existential trepidation and characters whose stories are perfect foils to Pilgrim's, The Gloaming is a novel that cuts to the heart of a human at odds with herself.