Amelia Gray & THREATS: Framed and Finished
Strange and inexplicable non-sequiters aside, Threats has many strengths. The novel’s aforementioned deftly described atmosphere is one of them.
An integral element of this atmosphere: biting cold weather. The world of Threats is inhabited by ski jackets, dreaded trips to the mailbox, pneumonia and wet, slushy socks. Gray writes, “The morning featured a chill that might try to convince you to stay down if you happened to slip and fall. The weather might question your actions as you stretched out on the frozen path, pointing out that as long as you continued to rest with your back on the ground, you could see the sky.” She also writes of winters that disallow you the ability to remember what summers feel like, hinting at the function of the season-as-character: Snow masks differences in landscapes, down coats mask differences in people. Wintertime is alienating and adds to David’s confusion.
Gray’s illuminating winterscapes are somewhat surprising, as she hails from Austin, Texas, and recently moved to Los Angeles.
“Actually I find it easier to write about things when I’m not deeply familiar with them. I leave out a lot more if it’s something that’s in my daily experience, maybe because I start assuming that it’s part of a shared daily experience,” Gray says. “But yeah, it was strange doing the final edits on my little winter book during the hottest three consecutive months in the history of Texas. I did a lot of work at night.”
Although the novel explores place more than plot, this isn’t all for naught; Gray’s exploration of the settings–namely, the frigid climate and the dilapidated, creaky house David inherited from his deceased father and nursing home-bound mother–are impressive. Much of the description involves detritus, decay, and amassed insects.
“The house shifted in the dark,” she writes. “Drifts of dust gathered in the corners of the windows and thickened with the moisture in the air into a damp sludge. In one west-facing window ledge David found a dry layer of dead flies. He wrapped them up in a few squares of toilet paper and threw them into the trash, their bodies crushed together between his fingers, forming a new kind of body.”
The morose image of dead flies, caked together and squashed, isn’t gratuitously grimy. The old house, no longer properly cared for after Franny’s death, juxtaposes the couple’s aesthetic-oriented careers: David was a dentist before he lost his job, and Franny cut hair, gave facials, and wore layers of makeup. After losing Franny, the lonely, housebound David no longer cares to maintain a tidy, insular home. He lets the world in, bugs and all.