Vol. 13, No. 3
If I’m the first person to tell you about Amelia Gray, we obviously don’t have any Facebook friends in common. More than a few CLMP members have published her: Tin House, Guernica, DIAGRAM, American Short Fiction, to name some. And Flavorwire just named her one of The Top 10 Best Millennial Authors You Probably Haven’t Read (Yet). So, let’s do something about that.
I first encountered Amelia Gray accidentally at a reading, maybe four years ago. She got on stage with a handful of note cards and said she was going to read some “threats.” And then she proceeded to scare the crap out of me. With each card, a promissory note of a very awkward and/or terrifying thing that would happen (to who? me!? gulp). And, once she pronounced the threat, she crumpled it up and chucked it at the audience. I bring this up to warn you: Amelia gets up in your face.
Her stories aren’t the type you read and then forget when and where you read them. You’ll remember. You’ll remember because it’s like rubber cement, or some other addictively-bad smelling thing, that you can’t get away from and have to roll-peel off your skin for days. Take “These Are the Fables,” for example. Believe you me, the burnt sugar smell of the blazing Dunkin’ Donuts is going to need more than a shower to ditch.
In the glow of the glazed and sprinkled flames, is a couple too-old-to-be-forgiven-for-this-type–of-behavior plotting their next moves through Texas. They learn they’re with child. We learn what we think is a lot about how to read this couple. From the get, you’ll think Amelia is generous with the details. She lures you in with information, you think you have it all down, and then you realize those surface information nuggets are just a distraction and all the while something else has been happening. There isn’t a lot of action or a big cast, and yet, each encounter, every action, like any great short story, is just so—well—pregnant. So in this trail of smoke through Texas towns avoided and considered, here’s a story about closed doors, physical contact, willful ignorance, the search for meaning, obsessive love, the inertia of the day to day, and, ultimately, what to share. And, while the images of the couple can at times be endearing, each time you read this story, you’ll say to yourself, Jesus H. Christ there is just something menacing about this picture.
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by Amelia Gray
Recommended by CLMP
WE WERE IN THE PARKING LOT OF A DUNKIN’ DONUTS IN BEAUMONT, TX when I told Kyle that I was pregnant. I figured I’d rather be out under God as I announced the reason for all my illness and misery.
I said to him, Well shit. Guess we’re having a baby.
“Lemme see,” Kyle said. I handed him the test and he squinted at it for a second before tossing it into a bush. A stranger set his coffee on the roof of his car and clapped. Kyle flipped him the double deuce. “People these days,” Kyle said.
I said that my mama will be happy.
“Here’s the thing,” he said. “Your mama’s dead. And you’re forty years old. And I have a warrant out for my arrest. And I am addicted to getting tattoos. And our air conditioner’s broke. And you are drunk every day. And all I ever want to do is fight and go swimming. And I am addicted to Keno. And you are just covered in hair. And I’ve never done a load of laundry in my life. And you are still technically married to my drug dealer. And I refuse to eat beets. And you can’t sleep unless you’re sleeping on the floor. And I am addicted to heroin. And honest to God, you got big tits but you make a real shitty muse. And we are in Beaumont, Texas.”
I said, These are minor setbacks on the road to glory.
“And,” Kyle added, “the Dunkin’ Donuts is on fire.”
“I had the threats in a separate text file, and then at a point where […] David was finding a threat, I would open up the file and choose one at random. I wanted David and myself to be discovering them at the same time… to not have woven the concept of the threat into the book.”
A very nice writeup of Amelia Gray’s novel:
The protagonist of Gray’s first novel, the mangled David, was once a dentist but lost his license after multiple malpractice lawsuits. He once worried over his father’s teeth, who told him, in return, “The dental profession is a farce of control.” This seems like as apt a description as any of Threats. The erratic characters all maintain their own farces: one washes and folds and rewashes and refolds clothing, her version of order; another lives in a garage filled with wasps and lets them sting her, her psychological control. And David, dear David, does whatever he can to feel proper after the (probable) loss of his wife, from wearing her gloves to sleeping in a nest of dental x-rays and miscellaneous papers.
Per the book description: “In the dead of winter, 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.” Part thriller, part love story, and part despair, the novel weaves a vaguely chronological story about the months, or maybe years, following Franny’s presumed death. Through David’s grief, Gray demonstrates her unique knack for writing both opaquely and concisely, dryly but with great emotional depth. This is not easy. The author’s surreal overtones work particularly well in this grieving story: I cannot believe anyone has captured the dizziness of devastation like this before.
Throughout Threats, David is never quite sure what is real. Neither are we. At one time, David and Franny were married. Franny is no longer there, and no one—not David, not the police, not Franny’s salon coworkers—knows why she has gone or how. It seems obvious that Franny died: David receives her ashes and we receive a scene in which Franny, covered in blood or berry juice, asks David to call the police. Instead: “David sat next to his wife for three days. They leaned against each other and created a powerful odor. In that way, it was like growing old together.”
I will gather your oldest friends at my home and we will have a conversation. You will hear us talking but when you come into the room we will stop talking.
From Cautionary Notes and Amelia Gray’s novel THREATS.
A Cautionary Note courtesy of Amelia Gray and her novel THREATS