#BrazosBest: A Rock-n-Roll Indie Press

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The Book: THE GLOAMING by Melanie Finn, our October #BrazosBest
The Plot: A young woman abandoned by husband, involved in horrible auto accident, has her sense of reality upended; she disembarks to Tanzania, where she wanders into nowhere on a morbid journey of self-discovery
The Chatters: Keaton Patterson (Buyer) and Benjamin Rybeck (Marketing Director), talking over tacos and beer

Ben: All right. So we’re chatting about the October Brazos Best pick, THE GLOAMING.

Keaton: Yes, by Melanie Finn, from Two Dollar Radio, that great indie press out of…where again?

Ben: Columbus, OH! They cropped up in the margins on the lit scene. (Sorry Columbus, I’ve heard you’re actually cool.)

Keaton: A true mom-and-pop operation.

Ben: Yeah, two people pretty much run that whole publisher, I think. They’re one of our favorites at Brazos. We’ve read and supported a lot of their books over the years, and the new one is THE GLOAMING. Wouldn’t you say it’s an apt choice for October? Got a lot of horror, thriller stuff…

Keaton: It’s definitely a psychological thriller, all wrapped up in how people punish themselves, mentally as well as physically. And I love how the book occupies the sweet spot between intellectual heft and also just page-turning thrills.

The Gloaming Cover Image
ISBN: 9781937512477
Availability: NOT ON OUR SHELVES. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Two Dollar Radio - September 20th, 2016

Ben: A lot of their books do that. A lot of them even mix genres, you know, or use generic tropes. This one plays with horror and thriller stuff, but makes it literary. Older books do that too. Grace Krilanovich’s THE ORANGE EATS CREEPS is a vampire story, and last year there was Colin Winnette’s HAINTS STAY, which is a Western that uses those tropes but fucks with them.

Keaton: HAINTS STAY is kind of an acid Western in that sense. And with ORANGE, I mean, it’s teenage meth head vampires: you can’t get much more out there and creepy than that. THE GLOAMING represents something Two Dollar Radio does well: they publish literature that pushes the boundaries of acceptability, so to speak. Their highbrow but down-and-dirty, just like Brazos.

Ben: Yup. That’s what we like. They fuck shit up on the regular. I’ve always thought they’re a fantastic press, right down to their branding. They don’t do the same thing over and over again, but their books all feel of a piece. I’ve always thought of them like an indie rock record label from the 90s, or something, like Elephant 6.

Keaton: They’ve got Radio right there in their name, right? I consider them the most rock-and-roll indie press. They’re a great small operation. It shows what you can do when you’re simply dedicated to good books.

Ben: How do you think THE GLOAMING fits into their catalogue? Does it remind you of their other books?

Keaton: Um, I mean, it’s definitely a piece of its own, for sure. It’s very psychological, all in the head of the protagonist, Pilgrim Jones. I mean, that name—“pilgrim.” You know there’s an allegorical aspect.

Ben: Sure, sometimes you don’t have to be subtle.

Keaton: For sure. And what’s interesting—and I don’t know how often Two Dollar Radio does this—but this book was originally published in the UK, a year or two ago. They called it SHAME.


Keaton: Yes. And that’s what it’s about: dealing with guilt, and shame, and obsession, and how our actions resonate throughout our lives. All the chances and lack of chances we have for redemption.

You know, when I first picked up this book, I was a little worried it might devolve into Chinua Achebe’s criticism of HEART OF DARKNESS: that Conrad uses Africa as a metaphorical backdrop for the disintegration of a European mind. But Finn definitely avoids doing that. A lot of it probably has to do with the fact that she was born and raised in Kenya, then moved to the states, went to school and everything, and now she lives in Tanzania. I think she runs a medical clinic, and she and her husband make nature documentaries. THE GLOAMING reminded me of TRAM 83 (from Deep Vellum), which paints a portrait of post-colonial Africa that doesn’t hide extreme aspects of the content: superstition, murder, crime, the plight of poverty, corruption—those kinda things. The characters that Pilgrim meets are all fully fleshed out, very complex. Nobody’s all good, and there’s a lot of bad people, but nobody is a stereotype. You’ve got mercenaries, doctors without borders—a motley cast all around.

Ben: Yeah, the book is very grounded in reality, in place. You feel the grit of the land. You feel your feet on the ground. But at the same time, it’s a novel of ideas. Two Dollar Radio is very good at books like this: they’re intellectual and work in theoretical spaces, while never devolving into whimsy or flights of fancy the way some other books do when you think about “philosophical fiction” or whatever. THE GLOAMING deals with very big themes, but through concrete actions, settings, and characters. It reminds me of Sarah Gerard’s BINARY STAR, which is about big, metaphysical stuff, but remains anchored in the body ultimately, since it’s about a woman with an eating disorder. It’s always concrete.

Keaton: I would agree. BINARY STAR is a great example of that, and THE GLOAMING is too. One word that always springs to mind when I think about their books is “viscera.” The books are very much informed by the messiness and meat of life. You’re always within the setting, but also within the humanness of the story.

Ben: Oh, they also did the Scott McClanahan book, CRAPALACHIA.

Keaton: “Crapalachia”: that’s fun to say.

Ben: It is. So who the hell will like THE GLOAMING?

Keaton: I think people who love psychological thrillers, stuff along the lines of Didion’s PLAY IT AS IT LAYS.

Ben: One of your favorites.

Keaton: Yeah. It’s for people who love books that can very easily slip between internal and external storytelling, in ways that come off natural. It’s a scary read, but it ultimately has reassurance at the end.

Ben: That’s important.

Keaton: Yeah, it’s not all doom and gloom.

Ben: I never feel Two Dollar Radio books are devoid of hope. The worlds in their books are complex ones. I think it’s just as uncomplicated to make a piece of art that is totally bleak as totally happy. They’re equally simplistic notions, even though we prize the former quality in the critical world over the latter. But Two Dollar Radio books show you up close the horrors of the world—there’s rough shit in their books—but they work through it or something. They don’t leave you in despair.

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