David, a retired dentist in an unnamed town in Ohio, is pretty sure his wife, Franny, is dead. But he can't quite figure out what killed her or why she had to die. Disoriented by grief, David struggles to unravel these mysteries--which become increasingly baffling when he starts finding a series of elaborate and escalating threats hidden around his home.
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.