When I picked up Threats by Amelia Gray at a local bookstore, the staff recommendation promised a disturbing, unique, and dark world that blends the surreal and the actual. The summary on the back of the book does the same, hinting at a tale that blends dreams, grief, and danger. After David’s wife Franny passes, he can’t figure out what’s happening around him (is Franny still alive?), however, his processing of her death (or non-death) is interrupted by the discovery of increasingly disturbing threats in peculiar places (e.g., a bag of unopened sugar, behind a picture frame within Franny’s former workplace)—it’s an assured mystery with a hint of delicious science fiction. Who is sending David the threats? Who are these peoples and personalities that seem to flitter in and out of his life? Do they want to help him or hurt him? Will David ever reach reconciliation?
Too bad for you, this book fails to answer any and all of these questions. Disjointed at best, the critically hailed prose of Amelia Gray is totally and completely lost when you realize that you’re wasting your time.
This book is so filled with inconsistent, incoherent mush that I couldn’t care about even though I tried and tried again, that I literally (I’m not making this up), fell asleep reading it. Head lolled uncomfortably onto my shoulder and sorta cushioned by the back of the chair, the massive crick in my neck I had when I woke up was far more pleasant than trudging through the pointless interactions with everyday life of a clinically mental man who has the personality of an abandoned soggy saltine cracker. Even though it hurt to move my neck in any way, I still preferred it to reading the randomly snagged book that was filling me with the sinking feeling of discontentment—somehow I knew that the last chapter wouldn’t satisfy my craving for a wrapped up story, that there would threads left unattended, and that I would be filled with a crushing realization that I wasted my money. I knew. Worse: I realized I had already trashed the receipt, which means I’d only be able to sell back the book for a fraction of the price I bought it. My heart sunk further. Aggravation set in.
Yet, I still read on. Anger started morphing itself to stubborn mood to fight off my building indignity. I paid for the book, damn it all, so I needed to finish it. I needed to finish it so I could read other things. I needed to finish it because, somewhere inside of me, I hoped for those last few pages that would shine like a lighthouse, showing me the way to not filing this book into the garbage category. I longed for a chapter that sewed all the mismatched pieces of plot into a shadow of a story, because I would have accepted anything resembling a decent narrative by that point, and…nothing. I was left flipping back and forth between pages to see if I had missed anything, only to be led to Gray’s acknowledgments. I closed the book and didn’t know what to feel. There was a strange sense of disquiet, like what I had read had the emotional impact of looking at a bowl of plain oatmeal, while still realizing that I had spent a couple hours pushing through a painful labor of shitty storytelling. It was only then that I felt so many negative emotions that I didn’t know how to put them into words, I was so furious that I was stunned into an angry flurry of toast making in the kitchen. I considered pouring myself a consolatory glass of wine…if only it weren’t two in the afternoon.
People are lauding this book for the excellent, deep, dark, disturbing, convoluted, poetic prose that apparently should have rocked my world and apparently makes me an idiot for not finding sensational. Reviewers have raved about the depraved world filled with hauntingly realistic details and the way the book engulfs you, or the ~out of body experience you have~ while reading it. No. This book is trying aggressively hard to be edgy, to be that indie book that lovers can use as a step onto their soapbox and look down on the unsophisticated heathens that don’t understand art or literature. Give me a break. Beautiful words mean nothing if there is no depth or point to them. David’s struggles would have been more engaging if he seemed like a stable person beforehand, shoot, if he felt like a decent person beforehand. The secondary characters have no point and seem to be added for no discernible reason. Is that a cause for praise? Uh, okay, if only in the same breath we’ll be talking about how spiritually moving SyFy original movies are.
Threats is disturbing in the way seeing two middleschoolers making out is disturbing. Is it unnerving? Oh god yes. But it’s also sloppy, awkward, weird groping is involved, there is a little too much tongue, and as the voyeur, you walk away confused and questioning the choices you made to deserve such an experience. You might even puke in the local park garbage can.
Do I recommend it? Spare yourself the trouble and instead pick up an Amelia Grey novel, at least the sex scene in that won’t include the phrases “she kissed his neck and left a trail of slime” or “[she wished] for a moment that she could take his teeth in her mouth and chew on them, feel the foreign against familiar.” Shudder.