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Threats - Amelia Gray

Okay. Every once in a while, someone will ask me: Puma, what do you look for in a woman? Immediately, I know two things: 1) they don’t know me very well, or they’d know that I don’t, and 2) they don’t know me very well. That, of itself, wouldn’t be particularly interesting to most people, but it does give me pause to wonder what it is that I do like in women.

It’s pretty simple really, what I like in women is the same combination of traits I like in men—that he or she be either smart and/or funny, interesting is ancillary as it seems to be some function of the two. That I’m lucky enough to know many people who are both smart and funny, I’m the better person for.

But what about women authors? Do I hold them to some higher standard? They’re certainly not well represented on my Read or TBR lists. I’d like to think that I don’t hold women to some higher standard, but I might, who knows? Here’s what I’m certain of—the women authors I’ve liked the most, were—surprise!—smart and/or funny: Toni Morrison (smart), Helen DeWitt (smart & funny—at least in The Last Samurai), Austen (a gentle smart and funny). Gloria Naylor, Paule Marshall, Leslie Marmon Silko—plenty of smart writers; but for every Naylor, there’s a Cisneros, for every Silko, a Hong Kingston. Smart and/or funny isn’t enough. What the best of these women do, what the best authors do, is somehow create in me some sense of caring, whether positively or negatively. I can read about ugly, ugly people; I read Delany for cryin’ out loud.

So, Threats, the one I’m supposed to comment on. Gray is smart—very smart and, at times, very funny. Brutally funny. Painfully smart. I hope she makes a gabillion on this novel for the dentistry research alone. BUT. The characters are caricature—emotional investment is strained. The parts don’t make a whole.

But, Mike, you read Marías! Does he make you care about characters? Sometimes. Sometimes, I care more about the writing. Sometimes the writing is enough. Threats, like am/pm, is wonderfully written, but for me, there was simply something missing.

So do you know what that something is, Mike? Maybe. It begins with the Myth of the Writer’s Writer. Most of us have heard that phrase: He (or she) is a writer’s writer. It is frequently rendered with the dismissive tone of You’d Know If. It’s an effective tool for marginalizing the reader, similar in kind to the frequently occurring MFA status in an author’s bio. THIS author comes with a receipt! But it tells you nothing. (I’m on very thin, rapidly melting ice) What’s missing is the sense of having read a novel. Novels come in all types; creative writing can take almost any form. Occassionally, creative writing takes place within the confines of a great novel, or it expands the confines of what we expect from novels—all the better. I have to believe there’s more to great fiction than skill. I want to believe in informed inspiration, confident spontaneity.

So do you have an Ultimately here, Mike? Yeah. Gray is an engaging and gifted writer. I’m looking forward to the story she’ll eventually write—the story she needs to tell in her own talented way.

I’m frustrated here. Frustrated that I haven’t cared for this as much as others have and will. Frustrated that, with this novel, there’s no feeling that it matters.

4 stars for what the author does well.


Rereading this before posting, I’m getting hung up on Smart and/or Funny, and increasingly thinking, you don’t get Funny without the Smart. Have to give that more thought.