CBR #7 – Papercut By Polaroids, I Bled to Death Looking For A Band-Aid

Threats by Amelia Gray

Another library gank.  Gray’s upcoming short story collection is called Gutshot, and it sounds right up my alley.  People keep describing her work as “punching them in the face” or “gashing them with visceral nature” or shit like that, so I thought, well hell yeah, giddyup motherfucker. Of all her previous works, and the short story collections, I picked up Threats because on the surface it sounds amazing: a man’s wife dies mysteriously, and then he finds threats hidden around the house — in a bag of sugar, behind wallpaper, carved into the side of an old television.  And the detective who has David as a person of interest.

This was not quite that. It was but it wasn’t.  It was more like finding a shoebox full of old Polaroids that you flip through.  The images are all blurry closeups.  By about halfway through the stack, you realize these are all of wounds.  But you can’t tell if they are the same person in each photo, or a collection of wounds that the photographer gave to other people and kept as trophies, or if they just approached strangers and asked to see their scars.  You kind of want to drop the stack, because it’s confusing and kind of making you feel bad, and not really making sense.  But you shuffle through. And when you finish you put the shoebox away.  There’s nothing graphic in there that will scar you for life or haunt your days.  But it’s not something you really want to keep around.

I don’t know if there’s a such a thing as a unreliable third person narrator, but that’s what’s going on here.  The story unfolds in fits and starts, as David spirals into madness.  And while it’s third person, we’re also inside David’s head and observing him as things go weird and visceral.  This feels like it wants to be very David Lynch.  It’s not that itself feels David Lynch-ian.  It’s that this book sort of has those inklings.  It’s absurdist and surreal, but just four paces off the path too far to work at least for me.

The threats are the best part of the book, but you have to go through so much humming weirdness to get there that it’s almost not worth it.  Here’s a favorite one: I WILL CROSS-STITCH AN IMAGE OF YOUR FUTURE HOME BURNING.  I WILL HANG THIS IMAGE OVER YOUR BED WHILE YOU SLEEP.  We kind of suspect who wrote them, but we never completely can be sure of anything.  It’s the fucking box of Polaroids.  It exists to exist to be weird.  Like people who would buy lifetime passes to the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia.  You should go once.  You can go maybe a few more times, to bring people there.  But why would you want to go every day?  What’s the point?

I’m still excited for Gutshot, but if it’s more of the same, I’ll be disappointed.

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