Click here to read reviewer Poornima Apte's take on Threats.
Beware of rapturous descriptions on book jackets that promise great things. Gray’s press is very positive but not borne out for this reader in her novel about a former dentist who has lost his wife. David seems to be in the throes of extreme psychological distress, a spiraling descent into chaos, his residence mirroring his mental state. David can’t seem to understand what has happened to his wife, Franny, in spite of the box of ashes that sits like a macabre centerpiece on his coffee table.
After his career and finances are rendered worthless by a malpractice suit, David and Franny move into his elderly father’s home, three weathered stories of decay and neglect. Upon the father’s death, David tosses sundry items down the basement stairs—old dental files, junk mail, broken furniture—nailing the door firmly shut. Since Franny’s “trouble,” his living space has grown even smaller—a kitchen and bedroom—and the world intrudes: a persistent detective, curiosity seekers, tourists, Franny’s co-worker, all forcing David into an ever-more confined space. Even a regression therapist has set up her office in the wasp-infested garage at the rear of the property.
In small-town Ohio, David’s life is insignificant until the event that draws the attention of the police: the discovery of David holding the three-days-dead corpse of his wife. Though he says he has no memory of what happened, one detective eyes the widower with suspicion, content to wait until his suspect reveals his true nature. (David never does remember in the novel, though the reader is treated to a number of meandering ruminations on how the couple’s life was together, vague impressions of an eccentric relationship, a series of anonymous threatening notes found in odd places.)
The intimation is that either Franny has harmed herself or David has fatally wounded his wife. He walks around in a fugue state the entire novel, having rambling discussions with men who look exactly like him or burrowing deeper into a filthy-bug-riddled bed in an effort to hide from reality and the knocks on the door (my personal favorite: the image of ants crawling across David’s pillow as he sleeps). Sound interesting yet?
If Gray’s intention is to explore the emotional disintegration brought about by loss and grief, she has shot way past the mark, David—and probably his wife—bizarre to the point of mental illness long before the unfortunate woman’s demise. Regardless, it is a very difficult piece to read, to endure, an ugly little tale that evokes no sympathy on David’s behalf, only a frightening pastiche of impressions in a life overrun by decay. An absolutely joyless, hopeless story of an insignificant man’s decline.