If you read for story, Threats will disappoint. Very little 'happens' outside of the ramblings of David's paranoid mind. But if you read for tone and atmosphere, or just that prickly feeling that runs up your spine when writing is so hauntingly grim that a ghost may have written it, Gray might be your new favorite find ... What the writer lacks in narrative coherence, she makes up for with technique: She packs both humor and the grotesque into vivid sentences ... Threats swerves often, jumping from the present to the past, from dental exams to David's inner brain, from a crime scene to a house littered with tormenting scraps of paper. The disorientation can be jarring. But that sensation of unease is a testament to Gray's talent.
...shivering reactions are exactly what Gray wants for her spooky novel, which starts at the high pitch of disturbed atmosphere and mucks around there for all of its nearly 300 pages of clipped, sometimes robotic prose ... Emotions are present in Threats, but it’s like they’ve been through a sterilizing wash first ... The biggest plot point of the book is delivered with enigmatic precision, a narrative oxymoron that Gray nevertheless manages to pull off ... The entirety of Threats seems to exist in that unmooring, in which sanity can be ripped up like so many rotten floorboards, exposing how the flooring was probably never very secure in the first place ... Atmosphere is so consistently relied upon in Threats that it sometimes feels as if it might be just a skillful shrouding of the book lacking plot and developed characters. Indeed, there are times — especially when it comes to minor characters — when Gray’s usage of certain horror tropes, such as the omnipresence of wasps, can feel like contrivances unleashed to buzz around an otherwise idle scene ... In a novel that’s invigorating, though not always inviting, the book’s own wicked sense of self-awareness carries it through.
Answering questions is very much the domain of most mysteries, particularly ones rooted in realism. Literary realism, this is not. The mystery of Franny’s death is the MacGuffin of the book, the tool for examining greater dramas of grief and the uncanny. It’s a bold move to have central plot points—titular plot points, even—go unresolved, and that audacity is thrillingly mixed with moving scenes of grief and horror. Coyness about plot in deference to the beauty and urgency of people’s thoughts is exactly what excites about Amelia Gray’s fiction. With Threats, she’s found a way to use suspense and do what she wants with it.
Perhaps closer to articulated impulses than fully-formed fictions, Gray’s work tackles our emotional realities through unreal set-ups ... It is this try-anything aesthetic that invigorates and sometimes undermines Gray’s new novel, Threats ... Here, through a mix of experimental writing and narrative drive, existential pain renders the world manifestly unfamiliar. Heavy as this might sound, this world is, for all its death and loneliness, oddly unserious. Gray’s prose is simple, at times beautifully so, and capable of lovely surprises. But it is also given to an artlessness that grows wearying ... Though it occasionally displays an absurdist wit, Threats often indulges in wacky repartee for its own sake ... Unfortunately, Threats never fully engages with the complicated experience of grief ... When Gray does pause to make thoughtful connections, her talent for drawing metaphorical resonance surfaces ... Franny emerges as the book’s most compelling character, and ultimately, it’s hard not to wish Gray hadn’t waited until late in the book to incorporate her perspective.
...an unsettled and unsettling novel, an oblique work that grows more and more engrossing as it cycles down the slow wind of grief ... But the longer Threats soaks in its shivery atmosphere, the more its surface dread deepens into a legitimate and novel-dense case of despair ... The drip of his sanity is the force against which every character fights, until Threats' narrative drive is not what will happen when the winter's frost finally thaws, but whether David, and by extension any of us, can be saved once the ice of loss sets in ... Gray's virtuosity doubles as a vouch for the humanity of her characters, which is all one may ask of good writing ... If Gray errs, it is in the too-consistent application of her tone. This happens on the prose level, which falls into an occasional declarative stutter, but comes through more in her slant-eyed rendering of every character, as if the author had only one warped lens at her disposal ... This cycle of life and decay infuses the novel's every sentence and last detail, creating a work that seems alive in its rigidity, and restless on behalf of the broken-hearted human beings that are stuck in its ice-wrapped world.
The discovery of threats provides structure in an otherwise inchoate story. The other characters in the story wander in and out of the narrative as if lost ... Many of the novel’s finest moments take place when David is alone — when he lies on the floor and pours an entire gallon of shampoo over himself ... Or the heart-wrenching (and ingenious) voicemail chapters, which are even better when you read them aloud in your best automated voice ... Threats is strongest when it clings closely to David ... When the narrator puts too much space in between us and the action, it forces us to step back and take a critical look at the characters and their choices. The problem is that the characters don’t always hold up to a critical eye: they don’t feel substantial enough to be real people. In another novel, this would be a criticism, but in Threats, it only adds to the mystery. It is the same with the plot.
Gray’s debut novel—following two short-story collections (Museum of the Weird, 2010, etc.)—feels like an old-fashioned gothic tale as rewritten by David Lynch or William S. Burroughs; in her hands an unassuming Ohio town becomes a bottomless repository of strangeness and dread ... This book is a mood piece about loss and the way the outside world becomes intimidating after an emotional anchor disappears. In that regard, it’s often a very affecting and disturbing book ... The book falters toward the end, as Gray tries to balance the oddness of her milieu with a sense of closure, making for a conclusion that doesn’t feel ambiguous so much as unfinished. Still, a striking debut novel from a writer eager to shake domestic fiction out of its comfort zone.
The book is a series of short, disjointed, and unchronological chapters. The story can seem labyrinthine at times, but the narrative arc acts as a clever reflection of David’s own developing mental illness. Gradually, as with any good detective novel, the pieces come together. What would have seemed gimmicky in the hands of a less skilled writer becomes a cunning whodunit with Gray (Museum of the Weird) at the reins. This is an innovative debut novel featuring a most unreliable (and compelling) narrator.