by Ameilia Gray
I happen to be a fan of absurd stories. I’m particularly fond of Haruki Murakami, Aimee Bender, Etgar Keret, and Amelia Gray. However, some authors of absurd stories seem to transform when they approach the novel form. Sometimes the author jettisons absurdity and writes a straightforward (at least somewhat) novel. Other times, the author may try to stay in the absurd vein but may become extremely difficult to follow when that absurdity is maintained over the course of an entire novel. Regardless, it has often struck me that a lot of authors whose absurd stories I absolutely adore write novels that seem to be from an almost entirely different author.
Of course, this is not necessarily a problem. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is an amazing novel, but it just doesn’t appeal to my absurd bent the same way as the stories in The Girl in the Flammable Skirt. I can certainly understand; the mechanics of the short stories simply may not function correctly in the land of the novel. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t wish that it did. The novels are often really good, but they just don’t have the same feel as the absurd stories.
However, Amelia Gray appears to have found a way to make this all work after all. Threats is everything I’ve been waiting for after falling in love with AM/PM and Museum of the Weird.
To being with, I couldn’t imagine anyone opining that Threats wasn’t weird enough. The main character, David, seems to have had issues coping with life for a long time, even to the point of becoming a recluse since losing his license to practice dentistry. The situation is not improved when his wife dies and he is left on his own. For example:
When the officers arrived at his front door, David found himself mentally unable to touch the doorknob.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I never use this door.”
“Is there a problem?” one of the officers asked from the other side.
The door’s lock was a mystery. Its silver dead bolt gleamed, barely visible through the crack in the jamb. David wondered if the bolt was electrified and immediately became convinced that it was. If the bolt itself was laced with electricity, how much would travel through the actuator? How much force would have to be employed to push the engaged device horizontally through the jamb? At that moment, was he safe? David did not feel safe.
Of course, David’s odd nature is only the start. There is certainly more weirdness waiting in the novel.
David becomes uncertain whether or not his wife is actually dead and/or how exactly she died, something that I even found myself wondering about from time to time. Sometimes he becomes confused because of his mental state, forgetting that she has died or how long. He even frequently considers what she will think about changes to the house if she returns. However, David’s mind is not the only place where these things are uncertain.
After his wife dies, David starts finding these strange threatening notes in various places. Wrapped around the base of his wife’s eye cream jar David finds a note that reads: “I WILL CROSS-STITCH AN IMAGE OF YOUR FUTURE HOME BURNING. I WILL HANG THIS IMAGE OVER YOUR BED WHILE YOU SLEEP.” He also finds one tapes to part of his coffee machine that reads: “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.” There is even one scrawled on a piece of peeling wallpaper in his basement that reads: “I WILL STAPLE MY ADDRESS TO YOUR WINTER COAT, LITTLE ONE. THEY WILL SEND YOU TO ME NO MATTER WHAT YOU CLAIM.”
Who is leaving these notes? Did his wife leave them before she died? Is she still alive and is concealing herself in order to hide notes? Was her death the result of foul play, perhaps indicating that the notes are the work of the person responsible? In any event, the notes are definitely weird.
Even beyond the weirdness, however, there is a beautifully written story in Threats. This poor man loved his wife deeply and greatly depended on her to help him cope with life. Now she is gone and he doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand many things and is on his own, other than the therapist who came by with the police and for some reason unknown to David begun practicing out of his garage.
This book made me feel a number of different things. There are portions that are hysterically funny. There are other portions that are warm and still others that are heartbreaking. I was always captivated, though, regardless what I was feeling during a particular portion.
Not every writer of unusual stories keeps the same essential identity when shifting from shorter forms to the novel. However, with Threats Amelia Gray demonstrates that she can write in either form without having to alter the kind of writer she is. Threats is everything I hoped for after reading AM/PM and Museum of the Weird. I recommend this book highly and eagerly await what Amelia has in store for us next.
You can listen to Amelia Gray reading from THREATS on this week’s episode of the InDefinite Podcast.