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An unsettling story of loss and dementia draped in a layer of longing and nostalgia.
THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT THE NERVOUS BREAKDOWN.
“I WILL CROSS- STITCH AN IMAGE OF YOUR FUTURE HOME BURNING. I WILL HANG THIS IMAGE OVER YOUR BED WHILE YOU SLEEP.”
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?
TO READ THE REST GO TO THE NERVOUS BREAKDOWN.
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Posted July 28, 2012
Posted February 8, 2013