Local author Melanie Finn’s novel, The Hare, was recently named a Vermont Book Award winner.
Finn’s work was celebrated during a ceremony on April 30 at Vermont College of Fine Arts’ Alumnx Hall in Montpelier. She is among three authors who received Vermont Book Award honors for books published in 2021. The Vermont Book Award is an annual prize for outstanding literature by a Vermont author through Vermont College of Fine Arts, the Vermont Department of Libraries and Vermont Humanities.
This is the first year the Vermont Book Award has been presented in three separate categories. Celebrated with Finn, a resident of Kirby, were Alison Bechdel for creative nonfiction (The Secret to Superhuman Strength) and Shanta Lee Gander for poetry (Ghettoclaustrophobia: Dreamin of Mama While Trying to Speak Woman in Woke Tongues; read our review).
VCFA President Leslie Ward presented the fiction award to Finn, who said she knew going into the ceremony that her book was a finalist, but it was a surprise when her name was announced as the winner.
“I was sitting with my daughter, Pearl, and I was really ready to applaud one of the other authors. This was such a strong year for fiction,” Finn said in an email. “When the announcement came, Pearl threw her arms around me. I don’t know what was better - winning the award or that proud hug from my child.”
In 2017, Finn’s novel, The Gloaming, was in the running for the honor, but she didn’t win. She said she thought with The Hare it would be a similar experience. “I was certain I wouldn’t win,” she said. “There were four of us on the shortlist - all really strong books.”
Finn’s previous novels include The Underneath, The Gloaming and Away From You.
She was asked to reflect on how creating The Hare may have differed from her earlier works.
The Hare is my most personal book. As a writer, I’d wanted to address the issue of my childhood sexual abuse for a long time. But I couldn’t get any distance between me and that past. Objectivity is traction. A writer’s job isn’t just to disgorge trauma and personal experience but to shape that into a fable that’s completely outside one’s self. Four years ago, I hit menopause and it felt like a bookend to that childhood abuse. I can’t quite explain why. Menopause is very liberating and empowering to a lot of women. We’re no longer playing a game we were essentially trained to play from childhood - that’s the impact of abuse, especially if it was kept secret. Victims labor under the weight of obligation first to their abusers, then their parents, and very often this becomes the pattern for most of their intimate relationships. For me, it wasn’t so much time to let the past go as time to look at it without being sucked back into the darkness. It takes a long, long time to get over childhood sexual abuse, it contaminates every aspect of your life. I wanted - want - people who’ve had that terrible formative experience to know it’s possible to come out the other side. Also, I have to add, that I loved so much being able to write about the Kingdom’s seasons, mountains and woods. Parts of the book are definitely a love letter to the Kingdom.
An online synopsis of the book notes, “An astounding, perfectly-paced literary thriller, The Hare considers a woman’s inherent sense of obligation - sexual and emotional - to the male hierarchy. Raised to be obedient by a stern grandmother, Rosie Monroe accepts a scholarship to art school in New York City in the 1980s. One afternoon, she meets a worldly man 20 years her senior. Bennett sweeps Rosie away to a swanky estate on the Connecticut Gold Coast, teaches her that “polo” only refers to ponies and tells of his escapades with Hunter S Thompson and Truman Capote. Soon Rosie is pregnant, yet remains unaware of her dwindling options and Bennett’s grifting until he abandons her and their infant daughter in an unheated farm house in the wilds of northeastern Vermont. Rosie is forced to care for her child, learning to hunt and forage, and befriending her only neighbor, Billy. Just as her life begins to normalize, Bennett’s schemes turn malevolent, and Rosie must at last confront his twisted deceptions. Her actions have far-reaching and perilous consequences.”
The Hare can be found at Green Mountain Books in Lyndonville, the Boxcar & Caboose Book Shop & Cafe in St. Johnsbury, the Village Toy Shop in Littleton, N.H., and at area libraries.