Book Review: ‘Threats’ by Amelia Gray

Book: Threats by Amelia Gray
Reviewed by: Brian C.

If Joan Didion and Italo Calvino had a baby, and if that baby was best buddies with Slavenka Drakulic and Blake Butler, and if that baby wrote awesome sentences, then that baby would be Amelia Gray. If that baby probably hated forced metaphors about literary brethren, then that baby would be Amelia Gray, too. I’m done with the baby thing for now.

Amelia Gray’s new book, Threats, is also her first novel, which is a little scary for those of us who have loved her short fiction so much. The lengths of her short stories are necessary to their meaning. The word count almost becomes another character, and it is a character that we like. I was fearful that she fell prey to the “but what about her novel?” sort of pressure that readers put on young writers. But those fears are quickly put to rest by Threats‘ first page, which is also its first chapter. The first chapter describes David examining his package. Not that kind, but an actual package with tape and Styrofoam. That’s all that happens, but you feel sad about something, sad for somebody, and even a little scared. If I could explain how this happens, I’d be writing for a more prestigious blog than this, but I know that it happens. Literature done well consistently performs these magic tricks, and Gray is quite the trickster.

The story starts to get weird. David isn’t handling something very well. What that something is isn’t exactly written, but it could be that Franny is dead. I read the story thinking that Franny was dead, and that made me think about death in general. Death is inconceivable to all of us, yet it happens to all of us. The only other thing like that is, oddly enough, birth. So, what happens to us when we are faced with the inconceivable? We sometimes break. David diffidently breaks. This is a story not about how we break, what breaks us, or what it means to be broken; it’s a novel about what it feels like to actually be broken. There’s a tenderness to this glimpse into hell that acts like a compass in the strange labyrinth that is this book. That tenderness offers relief from a very challenging narrative, and that’s what moves the book from a good novel to a grand event.

Amelia Gray used to be, for a time, an Austinite. She isn’t anymore. Now she lives in Los Angeles. But she isn’t LeBron James, and we aren’t Cleveland. We don’t hate her for leaving us, so long as Paul Qui doesn’t follow. I predict success for her, and we’ll be able to claim her, even though she isn’t actually ours. Think of her as the Townes Van Zandt of Austin’s literary world. And, because she is, or will be ours to claim, you should come down to Book People and buy her new book. You’ll be doing a future ‘Austin Original’ a solid.

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