I just reread Threats for the third time, just to see if I can figure out how Amelia Gray does it.
At times the experience of reading Threats reminds me of having a conversation with a schizophrenic person: the grammatical logic is there, intact, but the semantic sense unthreads by the end of each sentence. You know it’s nonsense but still your mind grasps for meaning, and sometimes finds it. In other passages reading Threats was like looking at random patterns on a wall and finding faces there, because our minds are so good at imposing that kind of order on random things. Sometimes a verb or an adjective was so unexpected in a given sentence that I imagined the author playing Mad Libs.
And yet I am so moved by this writing. That is the amazement of this novel for me. This is a novel that nearly obliterates the typical relationship between novelist and reader. Novels usually engage parts of the brain that are rational, logical, social. That’s the kind of exchange between text and reader that novels can do well. Reading Threats was very different. I’m disoriented by this writing. I feel the book leaves me to flounder on my own. But then suddenly I find myself making connections. As I read I have feelings of compassion, recognition, and joy, feelings that may or may not be anything at all to do with the “author’s intent.” I also have the feeling that whatever I decide to feel or imagine is happening will be completely ok with Amelia Gray.
As I read this novel I try to think of literary precedents. “Lenz” by Buechner comes to mind, or in contemporary literature, Remainder by Tom McCarthy. A few reviewers mention that the novel reminds them of Murakami. But in Murakami’s novels any fantastic elements are corroborated by multiple characters, where I feel I can count on a certain mode of reality being the “correct” reality to believe in, within the framework of a Murakami novel. Threats gives me absolutely no framework to count on. No firm ground where I could say “this is really what I’m meant to believe is the ‘real’ for this novel.” The reality you believe in for a few pages is quickly undermined by a new happening. The disorientation is marvelous and though-provoking.
The word “original” is so sloppily used for almost everything that I almost hate to use it, but there it is: This is original writing. It gives me joy just to know that something so new and unexpected can still be written after all the thousands of years we humans have been writing stories.