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David's wife is dead. At least, he thinks she's dead. But he can't figure out what killed her or why she had to die, and his efforts to sort out what's happened have been interrupted by his discovery of a series of elaborate and escalating threats hidden in strange places around his home―one buried in the sugar bag, another carved into the side of his television. These disturbing threats may be the best clues to his wife's


Detective Chico is also on the case, and is intent on asking David questions he doesn't know the answers to and introducing him to people who don't appear to have David's or his wife's best interests in mind. With no one to trust, David is forced to rely on his own memories and faculties―but they too are proving unreliable.

In THREATS , Amelia Gray builds a world that is bizarre yet familiar, violent yet tender. It is an electrifying story of love and loss that grabs you on the first page and never loosens its grip.

278 pages, Paperback

First published February 28, 2012

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About the author

Amelia Gray

38 books703 followers
Amelia Gray is a writer living in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of five books, most recently ISADORA. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker and VICE.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 497 reviews
Profile Image for karen.
3,978 reviews170k followers
July 12, 2018
"we all go a little mad sometimes"

this book kicked my ass. i do not recommend reading it if you have any sort of sad feelings already at work inside of you. or if you are in any way mentally/emotionally compromised. this is not the kind of book you want to find yourself relating to, trust me.

on the purely intellectual level, this is a well-constructed piece of writing that lives in the shadows it creates for itself. it doles out its revelations slowly, like a cerebral detective story, folding back over itself to create dense layers that stick together and dampen so that some of the facts are lost and blurry, and some only survive as fragments, but enough exists to create a chilling story of several characters completely lost in their own loss.

on an emotional level, this book is like getting a novocaine shot in one part of your body, numbing you with a dangerous pleasure, all the while being stabbed repeatedly in a sector of yourself you can feel all too well.

i cared much less about the actual mystery than i did about the rawness of its grief, the richly detailed breakdown of reality that follows a loss. the sense of necessary retreat after a blistering sorrow that is both all-consumingly internalized and seemingly manifests itself to one's physical surroundings, where rot and decay and paranoia become an external force - depression like an entity, tainting everything.

she perfectly captures the passivity that can occur as a result of grief - retreating into an emotional coma where everything becomes optional and responsibilities just slough away. throw the garbage down the cellar stairs. let the ants climb over your pillow. let the food molder in the fridge. wander all over town in your bathrobe and slippers. get lost in the fog of daydream and hallucination and regret and the narrowing of the scope of future happiness:

david's mother fantasized about being able to turn doorknobs.

this is what it comes to, in the end.

the inability to communicate, the misunderstandings of a relationship, the failures to prevent something easily avoidable, the horror of hindsight.

the blanket man closed his eye. "i don't like the color of his jeans or the content of his character," he said. " i know this is sounding real 'kids these days,' but man, kids these days, you know? these guys don't even talk to their girlfriends anymore. they'll sit and send them text messages all damn day, but the instant this gorgeous girl walks in and alights next to him like a thick-waist bird of paradise, the guy's on the damn phone sending the text message. girl's all batting the phone outta his hand, 'come on, regis,' got that sweet little pout on. regis wants to know the score of some damn game that'll still be there when he's done laying hands on this girl. kids these days have no concept of jazz."

a minor incident in the book, but one that i could not forget, because of all of its implications of what we neglect every day and what we will live to regret in our old age.

the fetishizing of what we are left with.

hey. please wash and prep the vegetables before i get home. we're in a hurry. sorry. see you.

the things we destroy and never think twice about.

in the kitchen he ate a pear. it occurred to him that, though he had eaten hundreds of pears in the past, if not thousands, this pear was different from every single one he had ever eaten, wholly unique, and, in fact, as he ate it, he was opening parts of the pear that had never been experienced by anyone, human or animal. when his maxillary incisors pierced the skin, which first protected the fruit as it had against rain and sun and then yielded to the invasion, he was oxygenating particles that had never even been open to oxygen. the wet fruit and seeds had existed in darkness for their entire lives until he tore them out with his teeth.

none of these quotations even touch the main focus of the story, which is about a man finding threatening notes scattered throughout his home after the suspicious death of his wife. i really thought this was going to be similar to mr peanut, and there are some point of comparison, but this one did things to me emotionally that were unexpected and only half-resented.

and i never even saw it coming. although i know people who have liked her stuff in the past, i had always assumed she was twee and frivolous, completely judging by her cartoon-y covers and the flash-fictiony nature of am/pm. this book forces me to reconsider my earlier appraisal, and you all know how much i hate changing my ingrained opinions, no matter how unfairly made.

i will reread this. hopefully in a less vulnerable state.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Jenn(ifer).
159 reviews950 followers
July 13, 2018
When I was a child of nine or maybe ten years old, an elderly man who lived on the end of our street gave me five dollars to rake up the leaves in his small fenced-in yard. I remember how excited I was by this bounty – FIVE WHOLE DOLLARS! I immediately walked over to the corner store and bought a bag of circus peanuts. Do you remember these? They are made of an orange marshmallow substance shaped to look like an over-sized peanut.


I took the bag to the playground across the street and I gleefully ate one after another, and before I knew it I had finished the entire bag. About 10 minutes later, I sadly regretted my decision as I vomited the partially digested circus peanuts all over the sliding board and myself. To this day I cannot even smell a circus peanut without feeling nauseous.


I think I may have eaten the whole bag of circus peanuts again. Only this time it wasn’t circus peanuts, it was books. I’ve done the equivalent of eating the whole bag of circus peanuts by reading too many dark books in a short period of time. One after another after another, until they’ve all started spinning around in my brain and making me nauseous.

Which brings me to “Threats.” So much of what I’ve been reading lately is dark and its contents stir my stomach into a frenzy of bubbling acids. I wasn’t expecting that from Amelia Gray. But all of the imagery: the wasps, the dental exams, the decay, the rot, it made me physically ill. Describing my experience may lead you to believe that I didn’t like this book, but actually, the discomfort it made me feel is precisely why I did like it. I liked it so very much.


I remember a dream I had once. I was in a diner, sitting alone at a table. There was a handsome man drinking coffee at the counter. He turned to me and smiled, and when I smiled back at him, it occurred to me that I didn’t have any teeth. I looked down into my coffee cup and saw a dozen hard, small whitish objects floating in the brown liquid. I quickly covered my mouth with my hand and ran from the restaurant.

This book was a lot like having one of those dreams where your teeth fall out. Ever had one of those? They're like subconscious threats trying to alert you that something you’re doing isn’t right; they’re warning you to make a change. You wake up; you search your mouth, counting each of your teeth with your tongue. You get up and look in the mirror, satisfied that your teeth are intact, and yet you still have that ominous feeling in the pit of your stomach.

I have that feeling now.

After I finished the final page, closed the cover and sat the book down on the table, I felt that sinking feeling; that feeling that something just isn’t right. I took all of the threats out of the silverware drawer, spread them in front of me and tried to make sense of them. I searched for clues but came up empty. Maybe I will puzzle over this awhile longer. I’ll let you know if I make sense of the clues. But perhaps there is nothing really to make sense of; perhaps it’s just “clever writing” and nothing more than that.

I have to believe there is more...
Profile Image for Joshua Nomen-Mutatio.
333 reviews878 followers
March 3, 2012

Amelia Gray's sentences are altars, propping up objects and moments and sensations. This tongue-tyingly beautiful novel—while threaded with a smooth, albeit mysterious, narrative and a small spot-lit bundle of characters—is truly the sum of thousands of such details, carefully and lovingly and wisely suffused with significance. Gray's writing implicates such a keenly perceptive set of eyes (and ears and nerve endings) for the little things; the things swept under the benumbing rug of over-familiarity, things lost in the shuffle of daily grinds and the sheer abundance of what's on offer for human beings to notice or appreciate or to overlook or take for granted. And there's such a potent imagination and dexterous writerly skill at play with which to transmit these depictions from the inherent privacy of thought to the printed public word. She can follow the lifespan of a speck of dust in a few lines with the emotional depth that The Great Authors spend entire books carrying their Timeless Protagonists through.

There are unexpected turns and oddities and loose ends, but they're not part of some slapdash hodgepodge designed merely to set itself apart from The Normal, rather they coalesce into a larger shape and life and movement all its own, like a school of fish or a flock of birds—in this case the shape is that of a unique tale of love and grief, of confusion, paranoia, and obsession, and of memory and passing time.
"I certainly don't want you to be alarmed," Chico said, "but I'm going to ask you a lot of questions and not provide a lot of answers. I hope you appreciate my candor and relative honesty at this time." (32)

"David didn't appreciate the kind of person who would answer the simplest questions without considering the whole of the problem." (96)

The story is an ominous one. It more or less begins with the death of David's wife Franny, which is not a spoiler since it's mentioned on the back cover synopsis. Despite this major event kicking off the book, the rest is a detective story in all the best ways, both obvious and less so. The reader has to play investigator, as does David, as does as does the actual investigator, Det. Chico, as does the character who, among other things, pores over books trying to discover whether or not "the word 'you' has been linked with more devasting sentences than any other in the English language. But it's possible that 'love' is worse. I'm feeling it out. It requires some reading." (168).

Gray is truly an expert at subtle mood-building; atmospheric construction, whispers, hints, suggestions leaked out of almost imperceptibly moving lips, all balanced and thoroughly blended together with vivid, incisive descriptions. It's not obtuse or cryptic for its own sake, but breathes and radiates a carefully crafted sense of mystery. Ends are left loose in all the right places, generating an intoxicating aura of fascination, not confusion-qua-profundity, like stereotypical caricatures of avant garde art.

I sometimes imagined her, rather than typing, surgically removing all the right details with a fine scalpel and tweezers while peering through a pair of glasses with adjustable microscope lenses, and then carefully ironing over the new spaces and seams with so much well-crafted and sensitively perceived imagery, which is often idiosyncratic, yes, but steeped in so much possible meaning—lavished with the potentiality of intuition—symbology through the gut and the cerebellum alike. Sentences like altars.

The threats that David finds written on little scraps of paper are a real treat to read. And scary in ways you will not predict. I will share one with you. Now imagine finding this tucked into some odd place in your house, which you live in alone:

Despite the fact that I took down a fair amount of notes about what I wanted to write about, this book really has me stunned into silence in a lot of ways. It was just that good.
"The feeling of being swaddled as an adult was foreign and tender." (30)

This sentence really helped to put the unnamed feeling I got from reading this book into words for me. Foreign and tender. Sorrowful but comforted. What a gift. A book that makes you feel something strongly and then describes that feeling for you.

I'm running out of words, despite wanting to gush and wax poetic and philosophical. Amelia Gray writes books that comfort me and I can't seem to satisfactorily explain why, at least not right now, with it so fresh in my mind and having quickly and impatiently pushed these impressions out and onto the digital ticker-tape.

This book has it all though. It's jam-packed with fantastic descriptions; I wanted to underline just about everything. There's subtle symbolism for the reader to either pay enough attention to or not. Brilliant observations about Grief and Memory and Love and Aging are very unpretentiously woven in at the descriptive and narrative levels. It's unique and sad and beautiful and strange and familiar and all that stuff.

Hold it tight and give it a good close look.
Profile Image for Trudi.
615 reviews1,412 followers
August 6, 2012

I can dig weird. I can dig really weird and fucked up to boot. But it doesn't happen a lot. Weird usually only works for me if it's scary, head-trippy, and ultimately satisfying. I experienced none of that with Gray's Threats. The prose feels heavy and overwrought -- pretentious even -- weird for the sake of being weird. What is this story even about? A grieving husband? Sort of. His delusions? His mental illness? Is the odd behavior of everyone around him really happening, or is it a part of his psychosis? Is he even psychotic?

I don't mind when writers keep me in the dark shadows and dusty corners of a book, maintaining an off-kilter sort of dreamlike experience for the reader, but as such they better have a plan, an ultimate point, a significant final destination that's going to scratch that maddening itch that's tormented me for the duration. This doesn't mean I expect all loose ends tied up in a neat little bow. I'm okay with a little ambiguity, but for chrissake, give me something to hang my hat on, or what's the point of going on this journey in the first place?

Ironically, this story really drew me in at first. The imagery, the cloying atmosphere, it all felt portent of something big. Instead, it quickly descends into a lot of sloppy foreplay that ultimately goes nowhere. My excitement level did not peak, and there was no big "O" moment.

Here is where I will say I am simply not the book's intended audience. If you like your narrative fiction more on the experimental side, that deals in a lot of dreamlike, metaphorical language, you could really dig it. It's possible. Not this gal though. This gal feels ripped off.
Profile Image for Mariel.
667 reviews1,053 followers
March 25, 2012
I get attached to things. I was once warmly attached to a cartoon animal I drew on my own arm until it made me too sad and I still couldn't bear to wash it off for days. The other day I came close to absolutely having to buy a stuffed rabbit toy and rubber alligator. If I had played with them a moment longer in that drug store I would have taken them home. I would have felt I had left something behind. My mind starts imparting onto them something out of myself. Names and personalities. My heart fragments on other's sleeves. Or maybe it's like a dog chasing its own tail. (They aren't always nice.) Amelia Gray's Threats reminded me of the voices I've made up. Inanimate objects and uninhabited spaces friendlier than flesh and blood. Everybody else that's inside and the attachments that threaten to become too painful to abandon. My The Velveteen Rabbit guilt trip aside, as it's not really about that. David could assemble his one old voice mail about vegetables with a guilty anniversary present of a sock, a saints medallion collection and a voice out of him that his dead wife will come back, affirm love against the impotence and doubts. What else do you do when it's just you? In life and in death can you feel safe unless you can sew it with a name badge talisman? Winnie the Pooh guilt trip aside. You have to commit to not abandon, to light all the candles, say I do believe in spooks and grace and never forget, not just on the holidays. She lives in the house across the street. There's another man there and he looks just like you. The past is no help at all, is it? Everyone else sees her too. I know because they told me so. How you holding up? Suspicion, why aren't you over this already, person of interest and some people really do watch the news. Grief talks. Hope walks. Chucky guilt trip aside. Are the threats on white paper in the sugar canister all you're ever going to get again? What if what's inside of you to wear and keep warm is pretty fucking scary? David could have written them himself for all I know. He could have been the a few rungs below a high school guidance counselor Marie who so-called lived in his garage. The Laundromat bag lady, too, with her no help at all human consequence philosophy.The thing is he'll never get the faith again unless it reappears. The 911 call is coming from inside your pants! Get off the phone! No one else is left.

I felt the kind of sweetness when you can pretend just enough that it really is talking back to you to not stop it. And then worried because you'll probably keep on doing it. It's everywhere and is any of it ever real. You could do it any time you need it, though. Tinkerbell guilt trip aside.
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
849 reviews5,811 followers
March 16, 2012
I think the word ‘you’ has been linked with the more devastating sentences than any other in the English language
I recently became infatuated with the writings of Amelia Gray while reading her innovative first book, AM/PM. That slim, impressive volume contained the roots of a fresh new voice, ready to break through the pages and blossom. I watched her tend to her growing charm with the short story collection, Museum of the Weird, which glowed in near equal value. There I found an ethereal elegance in her formation of tone and emotion in the longer stories and felt that she could really dazzle once she stretched out her legs in a full-length novel. Here is that first novel, and the prose is certainly blooming. Threats is a haunting tale that flourishes in a vile world of rot and decay drenched in a mournful tone that drips from each page.

The first half of the novel is nearly suffocating as Gray immerses the reader into an obfuscating haze of swirling surrealism as they piece together the fragmented mind of the tortured protagonist. They must float through ambiguous passages, flowing along in a broken order, as David tries to reconstruct his life and sanity, which were shattered and scattered by the abrupt death of his wife. All the while he is plagued by grief and paranoia, which grow increasingly imminent as the story progresses. Staying true to her short, abrupt style, the chapters in this novel as are very brief and it is the cohesive effect of these seemingly random episodes and memories that build to create an impressive structure fitting to a psychotic break. Each short chapter is brimming with imagery of rotting food, a disgusting build-up of trash, decaying flesh and a decaying life. Gray has a masterful art of delivering a potent tone, and it is the oppressive and gloomy tone of this novel that really drives it home. It is no wonder that one of her many motifs is the feeling of being swaddled, as she swaddles the reader in her menacing words. At times she even mixes the grime and rot with sentimentality, elevating the creepy feel even more as it manages to seep into the soft spots of your heart:
David sat next to his wife for three days. They leaned against each other and created a powerful odor. In that way, it was like growing old together.
Beauty can even be found in the stench of a corpse in Amelia Gray’s world.

This novel threatens your senses, from churning your stomach to sending shivers down your spine. The threats, while not being the most threatening or aggressive notes ever, serve the anxiety-ridden tone perfectly.

There is a constant feeling of something being off, but not being able to quite place what it is. There is something going on that only you are not privy too. There is something crouched in your peripherals that vanishes when you try to face it head on. The novel also invokes a feeling of helplessness, as the world is shown to be threatening and slowly slipping into decay, yet any attempts to stop it are futile. David and Franny both are employed in a fight against decay, David against tooth decay, and Franny against the decay of the flesh. Shelly just wants to keep clothing clean and not let them succumb to filth. David has nothing but the best intentions and only wishes to alleviate the fears of decay from his patients, to make time still, yet he cannot and loosing the battle with rot has severe consequences. We must watch loved ones fade, and, as he points out, even the mind must rot. We are made to crumble and to hurt and to be ‘a lifetime of plans, dissolved.’

For me, the second half of the novel didn’t quite stand up to the first half. This may be attributed more to my hopes for what was to come and that the novel took up a different path than the second half actually being a letdown. However, the ominous tone that I so loved, and the cloud of confusion begins to disapate and are replaced by bizarre occurrences instead of bizarre emotional effects. As David seems to level out, the rest of the characters began to appear weak and the agglomerating motifs start to fray. There are some great ideas, the application of a doppelganger, the massive amounts of pica and building a nest of paper much like the wasps that inhabit his garage (who were once carnivores just like us), but many just don’t seem to come full circle and their purpose is rather vague. It made me often wonder if some of it was just weirdness simply for the sake of weirdness. Initially, I was a bit troubled by this. After giving it some thought, this may be the point. A boy cannot find his sought after Sugar Cereal and is told ‘It doesn’t really matter where the Sugar Cereal is does it….if you think about it, it doesn’t really matter’ (if you haven’t noticed, food plays a major role in this novel). The ideas are there, and maybe it doesn’t matter because it added to the mystery and the surreal feel. The idea was to be vague. ‘Everything gains significance if you put it on an alter’. This novel is an enigmatic game where you must seek and apply significance as you will, much like life, something to pass the time before we all decay. My only other qualm was that she tied up a few things too tightly, such as revealing connections between characters. The links would be hinted at, allowing the reader to infer the connection, but then later they would be stated point-blank and it felt rather unnecessary. The novel does come together rather well in the end though,

Amelia Gray is a new voice that should not be missed. She has shown she can deliver a strong confident prose, convey powerful and often ghastly emotions, and preform with grace through a variety of innovative story forms. Threats is a story of loss and love and the ominous touch of decay that will keep you turning pages for more as the paranoia grows. My thanks to Josh for introducing me to the works of Amelia Gray, and for our excellent discussions of this novel. You should read his exceptional review

Each mind dies solitary
Remember the time we remembered
Remember the steaming crack in the earth
Remember lust, and if you do
Remember me

Profile Image for Drew.
238 reviews122 followers
March 27, 2012
So many good reviews of this book; I thought it was a safe bet for me, but I was wrong. Normally I trust my judgment w/r/t good and bad books, and if I hadn't read those glowing reviews, I may have said "it's a bad book" and let it go. But I trust plenty of other people's judgment, too, and their opinion is nearly unanimous and very different from mine, so I think I owe it to someone - maybe them, maybe myself - to try to determine exactly what it was that made Threats not work for me.

The easiest thing to pick out, though by no means the most significant, is Franny. Franny's the deceased (maybe) wife of David, the protagonist. She dies (maybe) under mysterious circumstances. I think we're supposed to feel something about her loss, but I certainly didn't. This was probably due to her description, which was...strange (the strangeness I'll get to soon). She's described by her fellow aestheticians as being beautiful, but she's also tall, with big teeth and lots of makeup. Then there's the fact that she seems to have done all the heavy lifting around the house. Fine so far, except when all those details come together in my mind, it forms an image of Hugh/Helen Steeply from Infinite Jest, who is both "a girl and a half in every direction" and...a man. Seems pretty sexist of me, but this review is necessarily more about my flaws as a reader than Gray's as an author.

The second easiest thing? David, of course. The stunted, atrophied, mentally unstable dentist. Is Gray deliberately making it hard to sympathize? It'd be way easier for me to do so if David shared a single noticeable trait with any living person I've ever met. A big part of this book is David's mental unraveling due to grief. Which I get, but wouldn't it have been more powerful if he'd been sane in the first place? We're talking about someone who had his dentistry license (or whatever) taken away for being overzealous. Even before Franny's putative demise, David's obsessed with decay and sees it everywhere. So naturally he tends to get a little carried away with his patients, seeing their teeth as they will eventually be rather than as they are. You can see the problems this'd cause, and in fact I really liked all the dentistry descriptions.* But I found it hard to like David; he didn't seem human, even before the pica and paper-nests, so how could I care about him later on?

And let's not forget about the style, which I think is mostly good, but also pretty MFAish. I don't actually know whether Gray is the MFA type, but that's how it seems. I guess I'd define the MFA style as myopic, if nothing else. Excellent prose the closer you look. Every sentence has multiple possible meanings, from which you as the reader are free to choose. And yes, that results in myriad** readings and interpretations, which is great, but couldn't it also be construed as lazy? Gray actually makes me miss another subset of authors I normally dislike: those with an agenda. Gray is so agenda-less that her work suffers for it. Maybe that's not true; her agenda certainly involves the major loose themes of grief and loss, but what exactly she's saying about it basically eludes me.

Related to this is the compassion thing. To me, the greatest authors are those with the most developed sense of empathy. Graham Greene had it. Wallace had it. William T. Vollmann has it. Pynchon has it, though he rarely shows it. George Saunders might have it. Who doesn't have it? Wells Tower comes to mind; he's a good writer, but every time he tries for empathy it comes out cloying and insincere. I feel this way about Steve Erickson as well, although I haven't seen him try.

Is this just a false dichotomy? I think people (though maybe not many) would disagree with me about Tower, and certainly about Erickson. And as far as I know, they'd be right. So I hesitate to claim that Gray has little compassion, mainly because I've seen in those other reviews how strongly Threats has affected people. Thus I have to just say that she was ineffective in communicating to me the compassion that she very well may have.

I did not recognize myself in David. I did not recognize a lost loved one in Franny. In fact, I didn't notice much of anything familiar in any of the characters or objects in the book. Why would Marie subject herself to repeated wasp stings? Why would Aileen want to have sex with David in his advanced state of decay? Which brings me to my penultimate point: I'm tired of strangeness for strangeness's sake. I'm not saying the weird quirks of this novel are without meaning; certainly they have any number of meanings, as I said before. But I'm not convinced Gray placed each one in the novel with a specific goal, other than contributing to the general theme or tone of decay. The wasps, the paper, the pears, David's mother, the seemingly inevitable doppelganger; many of the details make sense, but many of them don't. Maybe it's just that I don't like things inserted in my novels as symbols, if they wouldn't likely be there in real life. That makes it sound like I only like realistic fiction, though, which is not true.

So what's the difference between, say, Infinite Jest, a book I really like that's full of implausible stuff, and Threats, a book less full of implausible stuff but whose implausible stuff really annoys me and, to my mind, does not function? Infinite Jest's world conforms to a certain set of rules. Everything weird, from the feral hamsters and boneless babies to Subsidized Time and crooner/politician Johnny Gentle, has a reason that's consistent with the logical rules of the world Wallace created. I don't think that's the case with Threats. An example: because of the mysterious nature of Franny's death, David's house is in the news. This is already somewhat weird, but at one point David gets back from somewhere only to find that there's a whole bunch of sick tourists checking out his house. Screaming children are running around. A woman is making a terrible drawing of his house. I believe someone breaks a window. And when David confronts them about this stuff, they don't seem to think they're doing anything wrong. He's a part of the exhibit to them ("Were you the husband?"). They're all objectively horrible people - caricatureishly so. What is their point?

After a little thought, I'd say probably they're there to symbolize - and symbolically magnify - the violation you'd feel when your own personal grief-story becomes public. That makes sense. But the people themselves don't make sense; they don't belong in the story. They don't fit. So for me, the potency of the symbolism is diluted, nay, negated.

I almost forgot my last point, too. Not only do I think strangeness for strangeness's sake is pretty tired, but I'm also tiring of the unsolved mystery thing. This book is purportedly a mystery. On one level, there's an implicit promise that we'll find out not only what happened to Franny but also who's writing the threats. But on a deeper level, as with so many literary "mysteries" of the last couple of decades, there's an implicit promise that we'll never really be sure of either of those things. Evidence, like the fact that the threats and David's letter at the end are both all in capitals, is present but unreliable. This sort of thing seems to have a couple of purposes. First, a "realistic" purpose, i.e. "in real life, the loose ends often stay loose." True, but if I wanted real life, I wouldn't be reading. But at any rate, since there's so much weird stuff going on in this story, I don't think realism is the main concern; I think it has more to do with the grief and loss thing, which is always so much worse if there are loose ends. So, yes, I get it. But I don't like it.

I should say here that I do think Gray will write a really good novel. I just think this isn't it.

*Actually, I liked pretty much all the description in Threats. There's no question that Gray's a good stylist.

**I just looked up 'myriad' to figure out whether to use it as an adjective, like I did, or a noun ("a myriad of possible...") and found that in addition to the normal understanding of it, it also literally means ten thousand. Is this widely known?

Profile Image for Craig.
Author 10 books35 followers
July 5, 2012
I'm very tired of plotless, pretty prose. Thank you, McSweeney's, for killing narrative.

As some of the other reviewers have noted, the main character is completely frustrating in his passivity: what is behind his lack of memory? Better yet, what is up with everyone seeing the dead wife? Is this a ghost story or a mystery? Why mention the wife's secret life if it's never explored? Or the sister's death? Or the other, disconnected characters that have nothing to do with David's story of grief?

Who knows, as apparently the author can't be bothered to care so why should I?
Profile Image for Lark Benobi.
Author 1 book1,838 followers
September 17, 2019
I just reread Threats for the third time, just to see if I can figure out how Amelia Gray does it.

At times the experience of reading Threats reminds me of having a conversation with a schizophrenic person: the grammatical logic is there, intact, but the semantic sense unthreads by the end of each sentence. You know it's nonsense but still your mind grasps for meaning, and sometimes finds it. In other passages reading Threats was like looking at random patterns on a wall and finding faces there, because our minds are so good at imposing that kind of order on random things. Sometimes a verb or an adjective was so unexpected in a given sentence that I imagined the author playing Mad Libs.

And yet I am so moved by this writing. That is the amazement of this novel for me. This is a novel that nearly obliterates the typical relationship between novelist and reader. Novels usually engage parts of the brain that are rational, logical, social. That's the kind of exchange between text and reader that novels can do well. Reading Threats was very different. I'm disoriented by this writing. I feel the book leaves me to flounder on my own. But then suddenly I find myself making connections. As I read I have feelings of compassion, recognition, and joy, feelings that may or may not be anything at all to do with the "author's intent." I also have the feeling that whatever I decide to feel or imagine is happening will be completely ok with Amelia Gray.

As I read this novel I try to think of literary precedents. "Lenz" by Buechner comes to mind, or in contemporary literature, Remainder by Tom McCarthy. A few reviewers mention that the novel reminds them of Murakami. But in Murakami's novels any fantastic elements are corroborated by multiple characters, where I feel I can count on a certain mode of reality being the "correct" reality to believe in, within the framework of a Murakami novel. Threats gives me absolutely no framework to count on. No firm ground where I could say "this is really what I'm meant to believe is the 'real' for this novel." The reality you believe in for a few pages is quickly undermined by a new happening. The disorientation is marvelous and though-provoking.

The word "original" is so sloppily used for almost everything that I almost hate to use it, but there it is: This is original writing. It gives me joy just to know that something so new and unexpected can still be written after all the thousands of years we humans have been writing stories.
Profile Image for Stephen M.
137 reviews603 followers
March 4, 2012
Firsts: big thanks to Josh for keeping me hip and up to date on the new batches of fiction coming out. I can’t wait to read Boudinot and Marcus next.

This is quite the book; Amelia Gray is a master of detail. Such that in every small vignette—most chapters are no more than three pages—there is a lush diversity of compact images that portend way more than they initially seem. I found myself rereading and re-rereading over and over. This is a detective novel of metaphor and linguistic panache. There is a thick air of mystery swirling around every scene; this entire book is a swamp of strange images, confounding clues and brilliant prose that create this haunting tone, vibrating from every sentence.

I must make clear though, not everything sat well with me—merely from a matter a personal taste. I have found—through my limited exposure—that a lot of books, which I deem “MFA grad lit” follow a certain set of similar characteristics. I don’t mean to pigeon-hole this book but it’s worth noting, from having taken creative writing from two MFA students and having to read work by authors like Blake Butler, Brian Evenson, Elizabeth Graver and a handful of others. They all seem to be marked by indistinct characters, strange, oblique dialogue, disturbing scenes, heavy usage of metaphor and a heavy emphasis on tone. It is not necessarily a bad thing, and it is a relief to get away from “tradition” fiction, but it is unrelentingly bleak. I feel really depressed afterwards. Maybe that’s what good writing is supposed to do.

I will probably write more soon, I need to allow some time for the book to sink in.

Oh and you should read. Yes you. You would be sorely lacking without this book in your life.
Profile Image for The Wee Hen.
102 reviews6 followers
August 9, 2012
I'm on page 33 and I just want to say WHAT IN THE HOLY CRAP IS GOING ON HERE? So I'm assuming this David person is in shock. Makes sense, apparently his wife just died and he sat on a step with her rotting body for three days. Ok, odd choice, but ok. What I don't quite understand is why the paramedics let him go when he's clearly in such a state of shock that he doesn't make any sense. He can't even put together a sentence that makes any sense. And what is up with these women from his dead wife's salon who show up and cut his hair and tweeze his eyebrows and excuse me, but WHY IS THIS STRANGE WOMAN FLOSSING HIS TEETH? And then these cops show up and want to question him but he's afraid to open the front door because he thinks it's going to electrocute him and he wees himself? And these cops just go "oh ok yeah we'll come back another day." HUH? The cops clearly got that he'd gone mental and they just leave him too? Nobody goes "hmmmm this fellow might need a doctor to look him over and make sure he's not a danger to himself"?
I really really REALLY hate books that make me stop and go, "Who are these people? Who acts this way? This is not how anybody acts. WTF?" And this book is making me say that. It's annoying me already. I'm going to continue reading, give it a chance, but really, I feel like the author is just playing games and showing off her fiddly-diddly post-grad creative writing workshop chops. How about writing a good thriller? Am I getting too old?

Dropping this on my "Abandoned" shelf. Guess I'm just not hip and cool enough for this post-post-modern nonsense. The cover blurb makes you think you are getting a thriller/mystery/ghost story. You're not getting any of that. What you're getting with this book is a bunch of clever-clever, no decent narrative to speak of and no real story-telling. If you want to diddle around inside a crazy person's head then I recommend Jenn Ashworth's "A Kind of Intimacy" - her "Annie" is WAY more interesting and entertaining than Gray's wackadoodle without-any-rhyme-or-reason "David". Plus it's an actual book with a beginning, middle, end and lots of nice narrative that tells a great story.
Look, it's not like "House of Leaves" isn't my favourite book and you can't get any more post-post-modern crazy than that. But the difference is that when Danielewski isn't giving you long lists and extensive analysis of what an echo is he's giving you enough narrative to hang on through all that stuff. And Danielewski was OPENLY messing around with his readers. Everything might be upside down, the center may not be holding and the darkness might eat you up alive until you've got one match left and you're floating through space about to wink out - but at least everybody behaves like a human being, at least Tom, Karen, Will, Johnny, etc. are well-rounded characters that the author put the time and energy into creating. Even Zampano and Pelafina make sense in their own curious, crazy, off-center ways. But apparently some authors are above investing even in that for us. It becomes more about being experimental and not about story-telling. David and Franny are about as one-dimensional as you can get. All we know about her is that she's freakishly tall and works in skin-care. We don't know how long David's been a useless, helpless mess, we don't even know why he's a walking vegetable, one gets the sense he was kind of like this before she died. We certainly aren't told why he speaks in a very bizarre, formal sentence structure.
I have no problem getting on a magic carpet and riding into the heart of crazy, I just want you to make me feel like it's going to be worth the wild ride and you're not just showing off. Hated this book, what a terrible waste of time and energy.
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
859 reviews2,177 followers
May 26, 2017
A Good Riddle My Love

Thirty-something David is at a loss to understand how and why his wife Franny has died.

He retreats into his home, which he has inherited from his parents, where he surrounds himself with paper, much of it containing words: newspapers, magazines, greeting cards, books, computer paper, cardboard boxes, tissue paper, Post-it notes, index cards and receipts.

Soon he discovers notes around the house that contain cryptic, veiled threats.

As David endeavours to put these fragments together, his life starts to disintegrate.

Amelia Gray's narrative is economical and sparse. There are things even her omniscient narrator doesn't know or tell us. Did Franny write the notes before her death? Is she still alive? Is she entering their home and leaving the messages? Is it somebody else, a work friend or a counsellor? Is David writing the notes? Is he trying to respond to Franny? Is he writing her epitaph, a dedication, a love story? Is he writing a novel? Is he writing "Threats"?

Just as the written word can elucidate and inform us, it can confuse us, it can threaten us, it can unhinge our sanity. By the time the novel finishes, some of David's mental state has transferred to the reader. For all its apparent concern with routine and domesticity, it will unsettle you. What are we to make of this novel? Is it a ruse, a prank, a joke? Should we dwell on it? Should we just forget it?

The novel is strangely compelling. It has a remarkable ability to trap you in its world. Perhaps, like a Rubik's cube, you have to give yourself a deadline within which to come to grips with the puzzle. I don't know whether I solved the puzzle. I don't know whether there is a solution. Regardless, for my own sanity, I think I need to put it behind me and move on. Just as I put the book down for the last time, I found a note. I can't work out who wrote it.

Profile Image for Greg.
1,109 reviews1,843 followers
March 8, 2012
He was by no means attracted to the girls, who, with their unmarked faces, shared more features with ambulatory fetuses than with women.

MFSO has written an excellent review of this book, you should read it.

Introductory aside: What an amazing fucking year for books this has been so far. This book. Snow Child, Blueprints for the Afterlife, Flame Alphabet and Hot Pink. Fucking young writers are kicking ass so far this year, and it's only the beginning of March.

I mentioned how I'd been on a mini-hiatus from writing reviews in my review for Hot Pink (by Adam Levin, five stars). I rambled and mumbled through the review blah blah blahing about why do I write reviews and questioning why I do it and maybe making it sound like this review-existential (reviewistential?) musings, or staring into the abyss of why bother with writing reviews at all, was the cause for my mini-vacation from the production end of goodreads-ness, but that would be partially a lie. It's really this more like this book did it to me. It happens sometimes, I read a book. I like it, but I have no idea what to say about it. And I feel like I should say something, but nothing feels right or good enough and I end up just not writing anything but then not writing reviews for other books either because this one book is looming over the review-writing portion of my brain, and usually what happens is I get over those feelings pretty quickly and I never review the book that caused these problems but sometimes I'll see it on the "Read" bookshelf, reviewless and it still taunts with my failures to do it justice (these books all sound like the father in "Red Dawn" yelling "Avenge Me!"

(holy shit, the internet really does have everything, I was thinking would someone have done something like this? And yes they have*))

For the record, Amelia Gray's short story collection Museum of the Weird did the same thing to me that this novel did. But I never did get around to reviewing it, I feel terrible about it, but I don't know what to say.

That is the problem with Amelia Gray for me, I come really close to loving her writing. Ever since I read AM/PM I've eagerly awaited her next two books and when I've read them I haven't been disappointed but I just don't know what to say about them.

I think part of the problem is that her writing works so fucking well on the micro-level, her sentences are wonderful, so many of them are like those really perfect lines in ee cummings poems. But taken as a whole I never feel like I liked the 'work' as much as the lit bits and pieces that went in to constructing it. I don't even know if that makes any sense.

I was a little scared going into a novel by her. Her earlier works were so well done on the miniature scale that she put her stories into that I didn't know what would happen when she had to enlarge her canvas. This novel has a over-arching story, a running and kind of askew nonlinear narrative, but it still feels made up of a series of short, almost micro or flash stories. Most of the book's chapters are only a few pages long, and unlike say a Dan Brown writing those mini-chapters for the maximum 'glued to your seat' feeling, these feel like they are just the right length, like they are all mini-stories that are being patch worked together to make a jumbled and slightly hideous picture (I don't know how well this analogy will work, but I'm almost thinking that the 'story' aspect has something very similar to the 'story' in Infinite Jest but if instead of the shock and awe of maximum verbiage (meant in the most loving way possible) of the DFW style all the excess were cleaved off of the various stories that make up say the Tennis Camp thread of IJ, and all those stories were pared down to non-readers digest style but really small and beautiful 'small plate' literary offerings. I'm not sure if that analogy works, but it just came to me, and this would make DFW the literary equivalent of a really hearty and rich and gluttonous Thanksgiving-esque feast that you stuff yourself full of, where Amelia Gray is like that same meal deconstructed to it's bare essentials but still wonderfully prepared and given to you in portions that you can eat all of without even the possibility of getting that oh too full feeling. Her writing also incorporates delicious foam, which is my new favorite thing I've had on food lately).

Amelia Gray is really good, and even though I've given all her books only four stars, I still think she's one of the best young writers out there and I'm looking forward to reading many more books by her!

*What the fuck? They are remaking "Red Dawn"? This movie was fourth and fifth grade Greg's favorite movie. Does thirty eight (the age I'll be this November when it is released) think he can go through with seeing a remake of a childhood favorite? Will he be disappointed? I could just go look on IMDB, but will the cast be similarly as cool as the cast was at the time the original was made? Who could be invading? The commies are out of the picture, terrorists? Will that feel as plausible (was the original plausible? To fourth grade Greg it was, yes it was---but what about the line where the jet pilot says that it's just the US and something hundred million Chinese against the world? Why would China have been on our side in a worldwide Communist invasion? Huh?)
Profile Image for Daphne Atkeson.
199 reviews8 followers
June 1, 2012
THIS is a perfect example of why literary fiction gets such a bad (and often well deserved) rap...and continues to decline in readership. This book is oh, so poetic, oh so clever, oh so fresh...with a totally unsatisfactory ending. The only good thing about it was that it was a quick read. Loony characters who may or may not be doing crazy things--we can't tell because of the undependable narrator, whose fate we don't give a crap about--and in the end nothing is resolved. Well, maybe it's resolved but I'm just not brilliant enough to be sure. Usually I trust my initial queasiness and quit a book I don't initially love, but I hung in because of the reviews and because the mystery was intriguing, assuming there would be a worthy payoff. No such luck.
Profile Image for Nate D.
1,583 reviews996 followers
April 26, 2012

On the persistent unreality of loss, perhaps.

Isolate yourself, obsess over the details, they're all you have, they're all you will ever have even as they deteriorate into sopped shreds at the bottom of the basement stairs.

New young authors are writing some really good books these days. In its odd dread and smearing of the assurances of home, this suggests Blake Butler's There Is No Year, close in tone and component parts but with different execution, more definable, less wild and unconstrained. The unreality of Butler's fiction is calibrated to overwhelm the usual classroom-trained desire to pick apart the allegory in everything: too much happens to separate out meaning in each instance and the whole must be accepted as simple narrative reality, even while expressing certain universals. Gray's strangeness is slower-building and suggests a different kind of continuity and weight of images, one more encouraging of symbolic reading, though this may be deceptive in its own way. And when things get strange, as they must, the effect is different, unbalancing in a different way.

I read this too quickly, perhaps, and tackled the last hundred pages on an interminable middle-of-the-night subway ride, in an empty car drifting between stations for two and a half hours. While this probably dissolved my critical reading skills somewhat, making the narrative endpoints all the more cryptic feeling (or maybe they're like that for everyone?), it also heightened the affective aspects. I was wide open to unreality and marrow-leaching sorrow. Half-asleep at times, two thirty in the morning awaiting yet another transfer that wouldn't come, I had no protection against this. I will revisit in more analytical mindset. It will surely be quite different, though I can't say for sure which will be better. I'm sure affective defenselessness placed me closer to the character's experience.

I have some caveats. Though the book drew me in, especially in aforementioned context, there were some obstacles to this, as well. Full identification had to overcome a certain stylization of the dialogue and characters. I'm no crusader for realism or anything, but the particular manner of stylization felt over-familiar. I think, with the relatively flattened delivery of the prose itself, the characters and their words over-suggested certain patterns I noticed when I read a lot of McSweeney's collections (quick check, and yes, Gray has been published there). It seems a little lazy, too default-current-literary-mode, and it took me out the experience at times. Especially when so much here is done so well, so uniquely. (The intense pathos of repeated voicemail listening. The affective architecture of the home, its intrinsic mystery and, yes, threat.) Some of the weirdness may be pointing this way too, even though I love weirdness. I want it to be essential weirdness, not lazy extraneous weirdness. Unneeded weirdness leaches the power of necessary weirdness. I think this happened a little bit here, towards the end especially.

I'm thinking about this again and I guess (concisely) my issue is that the book worked on an affective level, but that this wasn't always fully supported by the narrative and characterizations, creating something of a disconnect.

But these are only the caveats on a potent debut novel. I'm excited that this exists and that more will surely follow. I'm excited by the doors opening in current lit in general.

(These three stars are a high three and I would recommend this to anyone seeking manifestation of a highly promising current impulse in lit. I think she can do better, but that's not to suggest that she must do better to present us with a thing of value. The thing of value is already right here.)

Perhaps only by proximity and new-young-authorness, this also suggested Ryan Boudinot to me (I read Blueprints Of The Afterlife a month back). All of these books express parts of a vision that seems very current to me, a post-postmodernism that is seeping up out of the literary cracks just now as we speak it. By post-postmodern, an obviously annoying characterization I feel owe apology for, I just mean that none are seem necessarily post-modern to me by the usual indicators, but that I believe they bear the indelible stamp of its preceding them, if that makes any sense. It all makes me quite excited for the future. (include maybe also Ben Marcus, once I get around to reading The Flame Alphabet).

I think I'm rambling by now, wandering the empty house, pulling papers out of cereal boxes fallen behind the fridge, only to re-read and dwell, steeping myself, yet again, and so I'll take this moment to stop.
Profile Image for Eileen.
36 reviews
April 16, 2019
Man was i fooled...fooled into believing I was about to embark on a enrapturing novel full of suspense and equal part paranoia. I feel like I deserve a t-shirt that says "I read this book and all I got was a massive migraine". I think the migraine is due to the fact that I bashed my head onto the table, wall, chair, well basically any hard surface that was around while I was reading this book.

First of all I agree with some of the points made by high reviewers/raters of this novel. YES, it had beautifully written parts! I enjoyed how the author made you really creep out at some of the threats that David found scattered around the house and other places.

I particularly enjoyed:


This threat makes you feel like you are an object waiting to be harvested or like you have no say in the matter therefore no means of protection or rights to objection.

The prose used to convey a sense of dark and untapped hate in the threats was amazing. I wished the whole book was filled with this. Unfortunately the threats were minimal and everything else in between was bland. David, the protagonist, is by far the MOST ANNOYING character I have even encountered in all the books I have read. I can't tell if he is so crushed by his wife's death or if he is simply too pathetic to function without her. Frankly speaking David's love for Franny was questionable. Was it love or was it necessity? Talk about dependency issues. The secondary characters are.....ummmm I have no idea what the purpose of the other characters were apart from Aileen. One dimensional and unmemorable almost like they were purposely put in to fill space.

Before I write a whole novella about the issues I had with this book I will just say this: If I could I would go back in time slap myself in the face when I went to purchase this book and just tell myself to read the threats and enjoy and contemplate them because that would be the ONLY thing worth reading. This book had no clear direction there was no ending (which is not bad in any means but at least make a point). I do believe beautiful stories can be told through wonderfully poignant spinets of prose but you need to have a clear sense of direction of where you are going and the story you are telling. This book failed to convey anything...just some empty threats.
Profile Image for Blair.
1,765 reviews4,231 followers
February 17, 2013
Sometimes it happens that I read a book, and enjoy it, and maybe even - as was this case with this one - admire a lot of things about it, but when I come to the end, I just don't have anything much to say about it, and no desire to analyse or pick apart its meanings. That's what has happened with Threats, and it's interesting that I feel this way because it's a book that is full of meaning and definitely not a straightforward, simple read. It's about a man called David, whose wife Franny dies in odd, unclear circumstances: after her death he descends into grief, madness and squalor, and starts to find threatening notes hidden in strange places around his house. It's never quite clear what is real and what is happening in David's head, and the characters surrounding him behave so bizarrely that it seems they may be just as troubled as he is, even if they are supposed to be functioning more successfully - although we see things mainly from David's perspective, it's still obvious to the reader that he is letting his life and home slip into a state of decay. Perhaps it's this lack of attachment to reality that stopped me from liking the book more, since I couldn't properly understand (and therefore couldn't like) any of the characters and, honestly, didn't really care what had happened to Franny - partly because the way she was described made her seem like a caricature more than anything. Loss and grief are such popular themes in literary fiction, and this was an original treatment of them, but personally I didn't find it all that successful in making me feel anything.

So, yeah: I liked this, there was some great writing, and there were phrases and quotes I loved, but somehow it didn't quite come together for me, it never coalesced into what I felt it could have been. Incidentally, Threats reminded me a lot of Keith Ridgway's Hawthorn & Child, which I found a much more effective use of this vague, deliberately strange kind of style: I would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoyed this book.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 23 books282 followers
February 19, 2012
The oldest valentine on record dates back to the early 15th century, but the practice of committing one’s amorous intentions to paper goes back at least another thousand years. The details are murky—much like the unsigned valentine I received in the third grade—but its origins are rooted in a heady mix of honor, passion and martyrdom.

While it’s somewhat sad that the valentine has turned into a tacky commodity sold by the dozen so that no classmate is excluded from cupid’s arrow, I still recall the thrill of receiving a note from a mysterious stranger. However, I imagine I would feel differently about this if I were the protagonist of Amelia Gray’s astonishing debut, Threats.

David has been finding notes that he believes are from his recently deceased wife, Franny. What’s problematic for David is that he can’t be certain if the notes were written before or after Franny’s violent and mysterious death:

“It seemed reasonable to assume that Franny was somewhere in the world. If it was possible for her to be contained within a canister of ash on the table, it seemed equally possible that she was taking a walk in the neighborhood, or that she was out for a drive, or perhaps standing in line at the grocery store with faceless individuals who might fail to recognize the miracle that stood beside them holding a gallon of milk.”

While David would like to believe the notes are new because it would mean that his wife is somehow alive, he can’t accept the possibility that they pre-date her demise, because the notes are, well, not very nice. They are, in fact, threats: “I WILL CROSS-STITCH AN IMAGE OF YOUR FUTURE HOME BURNING. I WILL HANG THIS IMAGE OVER YOUR BED WHILE YOU SLEEP.”

The discovery of these threats—taped to a coffeemaker, hidden inside a small pot, wedged under a door in the garage—fills David with unbearable dread that he does his best to face. But it’s hard to feel good about one’s performance as a partner in marriage when you find notes taped to the back of a picture frame that read, “I WILL LOCK YOU IN A ROOM MUCH LIKE YOUR OWN UNTIL IT BEGINS TO FILL WITH WATER.”

This grotesque little valentine serves as a metaphor for David’s situation. The home he shared with Franny feels like a simulation inhabited by a stranger, a feeling that is exacerbated when curiosity seekers come by to see the house “Where It Happened.” David becomes so unraveled that the detective assigned to his case can do little else but sympathize as David shuffles about, seeking answers to his questions.

Who’s the author of the notes? When were they written? Are they real or a cruel hoax? While Gray’s novel provides no easy answers, her portrait of grief is a dark and poignant reminder to “recognize the miracle” that stands beside you while you still can.

After all, each of us has an expiration date.
Profile Image for Kennedy.
301 reviews17 followers
September 19, 2012
Reading this book was painful for me. I really wanted to stop but felt like I had to make it to the end to see if maybe then it would make sense. I don’t know that I can say this is a bad book. It’s not necessarily poorly written but I can say that I honestly have no idea what the point of it was. I read the book because a review I read for Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn indicated this book was similar. I liked Gone Girl so I gave this one a try. I thought the summary sounded interesting. After reading the book I really have no idea how the threats mean anything to the story and they aren’t really threats or scary. I do not know what parts of the book, if any, were meant to be real. I don’t know if any of the characters were who they were presented to be in the book. The only thing I thought I could figure out at the end was that Franny, David’s wife, was dead and that David’s mom had killed his younger sister. I would never, ever want to read this book again and I would not want to read anything else by this author because this type of book just isn’t for me. I kept wondering how something like this could even get published but I guess the obvious answer is that there is an audience for it, an audience that can pull much more from the story than I could. Parts of the book are unbelievably gross and ultimately disturbing. I don’t see that there’s any way David’s character would actually be permitted to live in a house by himself or that he could have ever been a practicing dentist. There would have been action taken to remove him from his house after his wife died. I don’t see how he was capable of paying any bills or having any money or getting himself from point A to B. I don’t know if he really had friends that came to his house. I don’t know if Chico really was a police officer and what the point of Shelley and her nephew was but all together it sounded like a long rambling story from the point of view of a non sane person not grounded in reality. How I’m supposed to figure all of that out I just don’t know. I would give it zero stars as far as my enjoyment from reading it.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for xTx xTx.
Author 27 books288 followers
March 11, 2013
OMG. This fucking ruled. What it was about ruled. The way it unfolded ruled. How it was written ruled. This book was the skin of a unicorn, sliced off with chunks of fat and muscle still clinging to it, still pulsing. I want to have Amelia Gray's babys and then eat them, lovingly.
Profile Image for Rodney.
Author 5 books63 followers
August 12, 2017
At first glance one may think this is an ordinary type of story that you have seen before. Crack it open and right away you'll know that this is not the case. Threats flawlessly combines compassion and playfulness with the disturbing. The behavior of nearly every character in the book is the way out there kind of strange. A truly memorable read. I can't wait to get to more of Gray's work.
Profile Image for Christopher.
649 reviews213 followers
March 24, 2015
My big beef with this book lies here: "Wet turds of snow landed at his feet." My problem with it is that it sacrifices a connection to the real world in favor of creating a mood. The word "turd" was in the author's brain on a checklist of words to include in her book to achieve the grimy, scummy, and turd-filled world of Threats. It was there before "snow" was there and then they were nonsensically connected. I know this because it is impossible to look at a snowflake and honestly associate it with "turd". There is nothing turdlike about snowflakes, white, heavenly, crisp little things—completely the opposite of heavy, brown, chocolatey turds. (Have you stopped reading this review yet? I probably would have.)

Once I noticed this sentence and it grated on me so, I started noticing its cousins everywhere. I stepped on awkward descriptions like so many turds left in my front yard, surreptitiously left there by a dog's errant owner. (See: that metaphor works because there's a credible association between finding unpleasant metaphors in your book and finding unpleasant turds stuck to the bottom of your shoe.) Amelia Gray is capable of writing some vivid descriptions, such as this wonderful image...

Once, a group of squabbling jays stopped them on a walk. Two of the birds were circling each other, ducking and weaving, thrusting beak to wing, falling back. The group around that central pair collectively made a noise like rushing water. They spread their blue wings. It looked like someone had dropped a scarf on the ground. They moved in a unified line around the fighters in the center.

But other times, she strains too hard and plops out some stinky turd sentences. I should be able to overlook them on account of the great writing elsewhere. The thing is, though—the real problem about turds is that once you smell one, you can't unsmell it. You can shove it behind the couch or under the rug, but turds are hard to ignore once you've smelt them. Three stars for some beautiful writing with some stinky turds lying around messing everything up.
Profile Image for Neil.
39 reviews12 followers
July 30, 2017
He washed his hands upstairs, looking at the beauty products that still surrounded Franny’s side of the sink

After a loss, everyday objects change from meaningless items into reminders of loved ones. For David it seemed like he didn't allow himself to see this. He never really mourned Franny, and it created a vacuum he filled with coping skills.

I spent most of the book understanding everything in 2 parallel universes, in the first universe everything is happening as described. In the second, our DSM-IV hero goes on a solipsistic journey through his home and across the city. He created a world to gain control over her absence. He limited the potential of any real loss since there was no real other, no real "you."

Just like with Hunger I loved entering the chain of thoughts of a protagonist who has been freed from memory and unknowingly carried away by imagination.
Profile Image for Chloe.
349 reviews539 followers
July 1, 2018
I always find it worth remarking upon when a book I pick up completely at random complements whichever book I've just finished. So it was with Threats, which is so similar in theme and style to Viola di Grado's award-winning 70% Acrylic 30% Wool that I think a case could be made for plagiarism had the books not been published nearly simultaneously in different countries and written in different languages. I'm just going to have to chalk it up to circumstances similar to those that created the pairings of Armageddon & Deep Impact, or Dante's Peak and Volcano. I had heard nothing about Amelia Gray's first novel before the very alluring cover caught my eye whilst perusing my local bookseller a few days before Christmas and a salesgirl, seeing me transfixed by the cover, had told me that it was "probably the best thing I've read all year, a really twisted story of loss and mourning." That was all I needed to hear, Threats needed to come home with me.

It wasn't until I was about 40 pages into it that the similarities started smacking me in the face. David, a dentist who lost his license after a malpractice charge, is struggling to cope with the death of his wife, Franny, under some rather mysterious circumstances. Or, at least, we're meant to assume they're mysterious as nobody ever quite gets around to explaining the cause of death. All we get are David's scattered recollections of the early days of their marriage, some vague allusions to a childhood trauma that may explain why the police are sniffing around David like he's a suspect, and the threatening notes of the title that appear in the most unexpected places- in a bag of sugar, behind several layers of wallpaper that had been hung years ago, typed on a receipt stapled to the back of a painting.

Like 70% Acrylic, the chapters are exceptionally brief and resist any impulse the author may have had toward linearity or cohesion. David, like Camelia in 70% Acrylic, is coping with the shocking loss of a family member by retreating into his house, his world, the only thing he can guarantee is safe and secure and, like Camelia, he is an incredibly unreliable narrator, constantly injecting his warped viewpoint into the scene and causing havoc among his supporting cast. As I read through the parallels continued to pile up until, ultimately, I reached the end and was left in the same state of bewilderment I had when finishing Di Grado's novella.

Though the writing was, at times, brilliantly stylized and many of the writer's ruminations on love and loss were especially evocative, I still can't say that I enjoyed reading it. It started off rather good but as the story wound down to its final pages and characters I had thought were stable begin to go off the rails as thoroughly as David, it just grew to annoy me. Gray is a hell of a talented writer and I'll likely continue to read her works in the future, but Threats just left me a bit disappointed at the missed potential.
Profile Image for Steph.
540 reviews269 followers
February 22, 2021
oh, THREATS. i adore this book, with its beautiful prose that manages to feel soft and tender while describing the ugly and gruesome. the mystery is engaging, but the FEELING is what held me tight. this book feels like the cold of winter, like bewilderment, like loss, like swelling unease during a slow disconnect from reality, like isolation and odd rituals which make no sense to outsiders (but which help us to cope).

it feels like the tangle of brambles on your pajamas as you tromp through the snowy woods in your slippers. it feels like grief, because grief is cold & alienating & disorienting & makes us behave in strange ways.

as for the actual THREATS that our protagonist finds over the course of the novel... they somehow seem less important as the story progresses, but i thoroughly enjoyed them. my partner pointed out that out of context they sound like they could be dril tweets. dark and creative and oddly funny.

my favorites:



THREATS is similar to another gem, How to Be Human, in the way the narrative captures the reader and forces them to sink deep into the protagonist's unsteady position. there is a feeling of inevitability, and the sense that like it or not, we must find peace with the eventual decay of our family & home & sense of self & knowledge of what is "real."

if you prefer your mysteries to be neatly solved by the time they finish, then i imagine you won't like THREATS. but if you like the surreal and immersive, i highly recommend this beautifully dark book.
Profile Image for Kate.
349 reviews83 followers
March 20, 2012
*sigh* I was really hoping this would be a book that I could give 5 stars to, but alas I cannot.

The book started off fantastically with minute details regarding David and Franny's life together in the style of AM/PM which I loved. I liked how Amelia took me down the dark path of grief insanity in a really unique fashion, showing that we all have the curse of mortality and there's nothing we can do, but stave it off for short periods of time.

Even as the threats started showing up and things took a more bizarre turn (similar to the style of Museum of the Weird), I was intrigued by how the story would end. I was literally hanging on every word.

However, the ending just didn't deliver the punch I was hoping for. When I put down the book I felt empty and sad. Maybe that was the point, but I didn't really care for it.

All in all, I'm really glad I read Ms. Gray's first novel and am still intrigued to see what she will come up with next.
Profile Image for Beca.
95 reviews2 followers
April 1, 2012
I hated this. Hated that i paid for it, hated that i wasted my time reading it. The language is beautiful, and as a meditation on loss this is quite effective. However, as a book, it was a complete failure. No story, no characterization, no direction, no answers.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,305 reviews750 followers
September 8, 2021
When I was young, my reading diet consisted almost exclusively of horror, fantasy, and the general intersection of the two, alongside whatever infusions of "literature" (aka white boy wonderlands) educational institutions would subject their youthful inmates to. When I grew older and gained far more control over my reading habits, I tried my hand at the "experimental," the "difficult," the "transgressive," least until I realized what a circle jerk most of it was and left for classical pastures that were perhaps equally pretentious but whose authors were at least safely in the ground and thus unlikely to get vocally defense on Twitter and the like. This particular work was added near the beginning of that second period, and my enthusiasms for giving women authors their due kept its head above water for nearly a decade until today, when I realized that it probably wasn't worth it, but at least it was short enough to rip off the band aid and leave it at that. See, while it's been a while since I put a premium value on this sort of writing, I still indulge in the sorts of works that reside in my 'disturbation' shelf, and reading this in the wake of both de Sade and The Obscene Bird of Night, I can't help but wonder at a work, unlike those previously mentioned, whose prose need not compete through the gargling and spits of translations and whose themes need not survive the arduous trials and tribulations of cross cultural journeys, and yet still pales in comparison to both. Or perhaps I'm just sick to death of the trend of repackaging marginalized lives as either dystopia or horror to those in charge of giving out literary awards. Hard to say.

The US landscape of cultural media is littered with pockets in various sectors where certain works are only touched upon in hushed, almost reverent tones on a seemingly ubiquitous level, reputations almost entirely unquestioned and thus potentially almost entirely unfounded. One particular TV show was lodged into my skull by both fandom spread and young, "hip" university professors, to the point that, when it appeared on Netflix and thus in a form whose consumption required almost no effort on my part, I figured, why not. After giving up on it when whatever good it had amounted through the course of several episodes wasn't enough to outweigh yet another iteration of "father (mistakenly) engages to sleep with daughter," I went and looked up what the entire "lore" of the mystic mumbo jumbo of the series was, just to see whether it was actually more than the sum of its puritanically rapacious US WASP parts. Unfortunately for me, the general bent of the entire modus operandi/raison d'être/yadda yadda yadda was, and I kid you not, a cosmic, practically all powerful force that centered around, you guessed it, a father raping his daughter from child to her brief stint as adult, with the TV series centered around the subsequent communal fallout. Now, Gray's work didn't have that particular highly abused trope, but it was very persistent about grounding its "normal" in middle class suburbia affluence and its "terror" in sleeping on the streets, using public laundromats, dissociating, and a variety of other aspects frequently achieved through a combination of neurodivergence and poverty; aka, writing a story of horror that was so insufferably "American", whatever that means today, that I spent most of it side-eyeing every other page, thinking about that weak excuse of a TV series described above, and otherwise being bored to tears. It probably didn't help that I had already experienced the man-loses-wife-and-tragically-breaks-down as a blip of a section in Gogol's Dead Souls a month ago in a form that was monumentally more affecting and far better written, but if we didn't require works written in the last twenty years to hold up to pieces written in the last two centuries, where would we be as a species? As for everything else, I'm not going to bend over backwards and imply that being able to put up with a lack of closure and hipster weirdness in my reading makes me a better human being. It really doesn't, else these types would be far less susceptible to the certain combinations of advertising blurbs spattered on the backs of these sorts of publications.

I'm on track to switching almost entirely to a 21st c. reading trajectory by the end of the month, so having this read fall out the way it did isn't exactly motivational. Something I wish that authors, especially modern ones, would realize is that they can go as far out as they please, but if the bones are tedious and the organs are puerile and the skin and the makeup and the cosmetic surgery aren't enough to convince the reader to sit back and enjoy the show, they might as well have written yet another financially-stable-white-people-get-sad-over-a-thing and saved us the accompanying clown show. Part of the reason I made the shift in reading habits from the "new" to the "old" is to discover just how much is regurgitation and how much is the impact of a variation of axes on a variation of frozen seas, and while it's made me far less forgiving of whatever is put forth in my lifetime, it's also made me far more confident in my own estimations, a tradeoff I'm happy to make in view of the rest of the life that I plan to devote to literature. Now, contrary to popular assumption, I wouldn't mind reading more of whatever vein of writing Gray and co. are currently mining, but I expect representatives of such that don't follow the usual vein of my country's odious habit of pretending as if it's the center of the (increasingly hellacious) universe, else it's really just more of the same old, same old, drawing up with a different set of words drawn from a slightly internationalized thesaurus. Cruel, perhaps. But survivable.
Profile Image for Richard Thomas.
Author 93 books641 followers
March 27, 2012


The debut novel by Amelia Gray, entitled THREATS (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is an unsettling and hypnotic story of loss, disintegration and the ways that love both builds and destroys us, anchors us, and alternately, lets us drift away. This is not conventional storytelling, but if you’ve read Gray’s work already (Museum of the Weird and AM/PM) then this will come as no surprise. To call this a detective story would be limiting. You have to jump in with both feet into the freezing waters, no easing a toe beneath the surface to see if the water is indeed water, to see if everything is safe. Nothing is safe, or reliable, and often others don’t have our best interests at heart.

David and Franny are not your typical couple. Franny is a large presence, a woman who does her own thing, often keeping secrets from her husband, wandering behind their house into the woods on a regular basis. David is a former dentist who has slowly fractured in the wake of his family’s demise and the loss of his practice. The domestic life seems normal on the surface—reading the newspaper, filling out the crossword puzzles—but from the beginning, Franny has had to take care of David, accustomed to his wandering mind:

“FRANNY had never faulted him his confusions. Once, a group of squabbling jays stopped them on a walk. Two of the birds were circling each other, ducking and weaving, thrusting beak to wing, falling back. The group around that central pair collectively made a noise like rushing water. They spread their blue wings. It looked like someone had dropped a scarf on the ground. They moved in a unified line around the fighters in the center.

She took his hand. ‘You’re in the road,’ she said.”

It’s not clear at what point David started to fall apart. Maybe it was the death of his sister, who drowned in five inches of water. Or maybe it was the death of his father and subsequent institutionalization of his mother. But wherever he is mentally when the novel starts, it is the death of Franny that unhinges him completely. Take this early exchange with Detective Chico:

“David knew he would enjoy very much the feeling of a woman placing her palms on his face. ‘Someone altered my clocks,’ he said.

‘We don’t want to alter your clocks, sir.’

The paranoia that David carries with him slowly creates an aura of mental instability, and we learn early on that whatever surreal passages Gray throws at us, reality and truth are merely shadows and hints. Is the man down the street who looks exactly like David a figment of his imagination, or just a strange coincidence? Have people really been seeing Franny on buses, or are these just reflections of grief? Are his neighbors really out to get him? Are they watching him with stolen glances, normal behavior when witnessing a man mumbling to himself while boarding up his windows in a robe and slippers?

We don’t know for sure what is happening, or if Franny is even dead, in the beginning. And when the threats start appearing, things only get more sinister. These scraps of paper are scattered all over the house, buried in bags of sugar, and hidden behind old wallpaper. These notes are witnessed by Detective Chico, another unreliable character. And there is also the eccentric therapist, Marie, who inhabits David’s garage, sharing her space with wasps, stinging her hands into swollen, red manacles, her contract with Marie to rent the space another strange and unbelievable act. Where are these threats coming from—Franny, Marie, Detective Chico, David or the house itself? A sense of unease permeates the pages, creating an atmosphere of doom, at the hands of some sinister love:


The surreal world that Gray creates, her use of language which both unhinges and confuses us, is only further developed by these seemingly omniscient messages. These are the threats for which the book is titled. And yet, at times they seem to be caring gestures, if only misguided. What would an evil stepmother say to a child who she secretly wished would disappear? What would an abusive father say to a son who was nothing but a reminder of his own failings? There are often hints of caring at the center of these threats, which only addto the depth and complexity of the situation. Take this example from late in the novel:


If you swapped the word “staple” with “pinned” couldn’t this be the kind gesture of a doting grandmother? If you replaced the words “ you claim” with “trouble finds you” aren’t we seeing this note in a different light? Gray chooses her words carefully, for an effect that is haunting, frightening, and, at times, oddly touching.

Another element that adds to the overall mood of this book, and David’s state of mind are a series of phone messages. What was most disturbing to me when reading this is that the voice mail that Gray recites on the page is the exact same one that I have at home. It must be a nearly universal message that is utilized by millions of AT&T customers across the United States. I’m sure her choice of this message was not a random decision. And even down to the punctuation of the message, the way it pauses, I can hear the slightly robotic female voice that emanates from my phone on a nearly daily basis:

“ONE NEW MESSAGE. Three saved messages. First new message. From, phone number three three zero, three two three, seven four nine eight. Received, November eleventh at two thirty-two p.m.”

Having this on the page invaded my personal space—in a good way. I can’t even say how many times I’ve heard that message. Even the tiny detail of the comma after the word “From” allows me to hear that voice so clear and monotone—and the effect is creepy and brilliant.

David listens to the latter part of this phone message over and over again. It is a simple message, but who hasn’t done that? Gone back to the last message a lover or spouse left on our voice mail, a previous time when things were better, or the last bits of venom to remind us of why a relationship failed. David carries a torch for Franny, and in the end it may engulf him in flames.

Gray also adds many elements of the surreal to her novel in order to fully show us the mental breakdown of David. Here we see David witness something very strange when talking to Detective Chico:

“Chico opened his mouth. Inside his mouth was a nest, and inside the nest there were three blue pills huddled up against one another like eggs. David leaned close to examine the pills. They jostled, alive on the man’s tongue.”

It’s moments like these that keep you on your toes and force you to pay close attention. Are these the hallucinations of a mind that is struggling to stay focused and get healthy, or are these visions the last sparks of mental exhaustion before the failing gears grind to a halt?

How do we represent loss, and how do we deal with the ghost of a love as it dissipates. How do we remain grounded when our dependency is ripped from our hands even as we lean on its pillars, not realizing we are doing so, unaware of our need for something so familiar and constant? What Gray has shown us in THREATS is a dysfunctional relationship wrapped in the mysteries of buried socks and golem wives, dentists that see worms in teeth, and the slowly crumbling infrastructure of common failures and uncertain desires. With surreal, layered prose and an unsettling ability to climb inside your head and hold a mirror up to our universal fears and secret pasts, Gray has created a captivating story that will certainly haunt readers for many years to come.
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