4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to everyone. Period.
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
My first experience with Amelia Gray's writing was listening to her read from her collection of flash fiction at the 2011 Brooklyn Book Festival. Her's was the last panel of the day - sharing the stage with Alan Heathcock and two male writers I had never heard of - and what a panel it was. She read from AM/PM (which I hadn't read but of which I had heard countless good things). Her stories were tender and sweet and strange and a little screwy. They were amazing to listen to; the stories pushed quickly out of her mouth, the moments in between as we waited while the pages were flipped through as she decided which one to share next...
So during my most recent visit to NYC, when I stumbled across Threats (her newest release and first novel) while wandering the many tables and stacks of book within The Strand, I knew immediately that it would be coming home with me.
Amelia writes the story from the point of view of a confused and distraught husband. David, our protagonist, is trying to come to terms with the fact that his wife is dead. That she has, in fact, died right beside him on the hallway stairs and has since been delivered back to him, as a box of ashes, that sit on his kitchen table. The days immediately after her death are a mystery to David, wrapped inside one big cloud of fog. He can't seem to get his brain to behave; he's misinterpreting things, he's paranoid and his memory is unreliable.
It doesn't help that, as he wanders from room to room inside his home, he's begun to uncover cleverly hidden threats written out on scrap pieces of paper. Are they clues? Are they from his wife? While David is being questioned by the police regarding the strange circumstances surrounding his wife's death, he sets out on his own determined to find an explanation for those horrid, hurtful notes.
Right from the very beginning, it's obvious that Amelia's magic is in her timing. She draws information out of her characters slowly, teasingly. She's letting out just enough line to allow us to get hooked, and then once the bait is taken, toys with us relentlessly, right up until the very last page. The tight constraints of perspective, the limited and somewhat warped peephole view she allows us, keeps us from ever getting too far ahead of her. Her short chapters (anywhere from one to three pages long) yank us along in fits and starts. Make no mistake. Amelia holds the reigns in this one, and she's not afraid to choke us if we get out of line.
See, for me, it's all about the writing. Amelia's writing is elegant and sparse. The power of her words lie in their simplicity. The story she placed us in reads like one of those horrible nightmares in which you are aware you are dreaming and yet you know there is nothing you can do to wake yourself up. Everything's familiar but.. something's off. It looks like home but it doesn't smell quite right. Maybe the furniture is a tad bit too dusty, or the rug is slightly too worn. It's like you're living inside a memory, breathing stale old air. She creates in you that feeling of unease and dread that you just can't seem to shake.
While reading this book, I often found myself wondering how my own husband would react were I to pass away before him, before my time. Would he begin to fall apart at the seams like David did? Would he, too, start to unravel and lose his mind to paranoia, loneliness, and fear? There's a part of me that wants him to, that foolishly hopes that I am his whole life, and that without me, he wouldn't be able to function. There's something incredibly romantic about that... That a man could so completely depend on his wife, need her soo badly in his life, that when she is no longer there, he begins to slowly disintegrate before everyone's eyes...
Run, readers. Run out to your local bookstore and get this book. You don't want to miss it. And to entice you even further, here is a cute video of Amelia, on a moped, as she recites some of the threats David uncovers in the oddest of places: