Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Threats.
“Could you call for help?” she asks. David’s wife, Franny, is at the bottom of the basement, having just walked in from the outside and thrown up a whole amount of blood. It’s one of the most memorable opening scenes in recent fiction and perfectly frames the surreal story to follow. Shortly thereafter, Franny is dead, and nobody can tell what happened to precipitate it. An autopsy reveals multiple lacerations, but Franny is known to wander off into the woods quite frequently and do many other things independent of her husband’s orbit. But the death is suspicious enough to warrant the police coming around and asking questions.
David has been recovering from another loss—the loss of his dental practice due to a malpractice lawsuit—and when Franny dies, he totally disintegrates and spirals out of control. As he plods through his day, trying to sustain himself with cans of soup broth heated on the stove and fending off questions from a local police detective named Chico, another set of complications presents itself. David starts unwrapping a series of mysterious and ominous “threats” tucked in the unlikeliest of places. Each threat assembled on small bits of paper like ransom notes, sounds bizarre and increasingly ominous. “YOUR FATE IS SEALED WITH GLUE I HAVE BOILED IN A VAT. I SLOPPED IT ON AN ENVELOPE AND MAILED IT TO YOUR MOTHER’S WOMB,” says one.
These threats, even as he holds on to them in a plain vanilla Ziploc bag, set the stage perfectly for the slow decay of David’s mind. There’s a very haunting, surreal quality throughout the novel as author Amelia Gray brilliantly chronicles the definition of loss and our intense reactions to it. Soon the mystery lies not so much in who exactly sent these threats, how they are connected to Franny’s death, how Franny died or if she is even dead, but in figuring out if David will pull himself together and make it clear to the other end. “It was hard to admit that those days (as a dentist) were over, but it was hard to admit that any days were over, that the days themselves didn’t stretch like pulled taffy and sag to the floor,” Gray writes of the struggle David puts up just to stay afloat.
Gray is phenomenal at portraying David’s slow descent into what looks like madness. “Below the layer of his clean clothes, the crevices of his body began to foster their own microsystem. He began to think of himself as a piece of dense bread,” she writes. Threats reads not like a fast-paced whodunit but like a slow, creepy, slightly off-kilter, surreal story—no wonder David Lynch’s work is brought up as comparison. Threats is perfect material for a rainy and dank weekend afternoon.
This dark and creepy novel is a beautiful portrayal of loss and its effects on one solitary person. “The house was a void. Its dark hallway beckoned. Curtains in the living room stood like sentry ghosts,” David thinks. When you lose your anchor, you can find yourself without bearings, not knowing how to go on but surviving nevertheless, holding on to the most fragile of memories. It is telling that David clings to the one piece of the past that has a semblance of normalcy: an old message from his wife on an answering machine. It’s one that plays over and over again in the story. “Hey. Please wash and prep the vegetables before I get home. We’re in a hurry. Sorry. See you.” A routine everyday message from your wife on your answering machine. While everything else looks strange and downright terrifying, you hold on to any vestige of normalcy until in the end, it too by its very presence drives you insane.