I always find it worth remarking upon when a book I pick up completely at random complements whichever book I've just finished. So it was with ThreatsI always find it worth remarking upon when a book I pick up completely at random complements whichever book I've just finished. So it was with Threats, which is so similar in theme and style to Viola di Grado's award-winning 70% Acrylic 30% Wool that I think a case could be made for plagiarism had the books not been published nearly simultaneously in different countries and written in different languages. I'm just going to have to chalk it up to circumstances similar to those that created the pairings of Armageddon & Deep Impact, or Dante's Peak and Volcano. I had heard nothing about Amelia Gray's first novel before the very alluring cover caught my eye whilst perusing my local bookseller a few days before Christmas and a salesgirl, seeing me transfixed by the cover, had told me that it was "probably the best thing I've read all year, a really twisted story of loss and mourning." That was all I needed to hear, Threats needed to come home with me.
It wasn't until I was about 40 pages into it that the similarities started smacking me in the face. David, a dentist who lost his license after a malpractice charge, is struggling to cope with the death of his wife, Franny, under some rather mysterious circumstances. Or, at least, we're meant to assume they're mysterious as nobody ever quite gets around to explaining the cause of death. All we get are David's scattered recollections of the early days of their marriage, some vague allusions to a childhood trauma that may explain why the police are sniffing around David like he's a suspect, and the threatening notes of the title that appear in the most unexpected places- in a bag of sugar, behind several layers of wallpaper that had been hung years ago, typed on a receipt stapled to the back of a painting.
Like 70% Acrylic, the chapters are exceptionally brief and resist any impulse the author may have had toward linearity or cohesion. David, like Camelia in 70% Acrylic, is coping with the shocking loss of a family member by retreating into his house, his world, the only thing he can guarantee is safe and secure and, like Camelia, he is an incredibly unreliable narrator, constantly injecting his warped viewpoint into the scene and causing havoc among his supporting cast. As I read through the parallels continued to pile up until, ultimately, I reached the end and was left in the same state of bewilderment I had when finishing Di Grado's novella.
Though the writing was, at times, brilliantly stylized and many of the writer's ruminations on love and loss were especially evocative, I still can't say that I enjoyed reading it. It started off rather good but as the story wound down to its final pages and characters I had thought were stable begin to go off the rails as thoroughly as David, it just grew to annoy me. Gray is a hell of a talented writer and I'll likely continue to read her works in the future, but Threats just left me a bit disappointed at the missed potential. ...more
I've made it. I have finally reached the summit of the second Library of America collection of Philip K. Dick books, Five Novels of the 1960s & 70I've made it. I have finally reached the summit of the second Library of America collection of Philip K. Dick books, Five Novels of the 1960s & 70s. With my flag firmly planted atop the snow-capped peak of this book I can look back upon two weeks of paranoia, time travel, authoritarian governments and more experimental drugs than you can find outside of a Merck testing lab, with the self-satisfied air of a man who has plumbed the depths of speed-induced psychosis and made it through the other side. What better reward could I ask for, though, than to have finally allowed myself to read a book I knew I would love from the moment I saw the film, A Scanner Darkly?
I have wanted to read this book since the first time I heard of it, way back in the heady year of 2004 when I was working the front desk of a hostel in Prague and running a traveler's lending library of english-language literature. I was fresh off of Man in the High Castle and was handed a tattered paperback by a Welshman along with the benediction that this book would "utterly melt your mind." With a recommendation like that, I was immediately interested. Unfortunately that copy was soon lost among the ever-changing residents of the hostel and an opportunity was postponed. I've read nearly two dozen of Dick's books in the time since then but for one reason or another have never returned to A Scanner Darkly until now. The wait has made it even more delectable.
Bob Arctor is an undercover cop investigating the sale of a drug known as Substance D, a heavily addictive drug its users lovingly refer to as Death because the end result of long term use is always either the big D itself or a fugue state in which the user's basic motor functions and cognitive abilities are stripped away, leaving a husk of a person behind. To infiltrate the organization making this drug, Arctor has become addicted to Substance D and is living in a bacchanal of a drug pad with 3 other users and attempting to make time with his dealer, Donna Hawthorne. He reports back to his office under the pseudonym of "Fred" and wearing a scramble suit to anonymize his identity, because no one knows the extent to which the police department has been corrupted by the drug syndicate, which leads to his superiors deciding that the user Bob Arctor is worthy of deeper investigation as he seems to have access to larger amounts of money than a man of his background should have and many hours where he simply disappears without a trace (of course, these are the times when Arctor is checking in with the department as Fred).
So Arctor begins investigating himself in a move so biting it could have been culled from one of Kafka's nightmares. Sitting in a secret facility, reviewing hours and hours of surveillance tapes, and hearing all of the inane blather that only a house full of junkies can think is profound, Arctor's consciousness begins to fragment down the center until his cop persona Fred begins to suspect that Arctor is in business with some very shady people and becomes determined to bring him down.
It's always a relief to me when a book manages to live up to the expectations I have, especially when it's a read I've been looking forward to for a number of years. The dialogue was spot on, so many of the conversations between Arctor and his roommates, Barris and Luckman, seem as though they could have easily been taken from real life. Especially considering that at the time he was writing this, Dick had essentially opened up his home in Berkeley to the ever-shifting tide of drug users, political activists, and wanderers that were all moving through the Bay Area in the early 70s. The paranoia that is a hallmark of every Dick work reaches its pinnacle here as Arctor races against his own failing mind to collar his crook in time, who just happens to be himself.
This read ranks up there with Ubik, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch as one of Dick's finest. It is easily worthy of the praise which has been heaped upon it, and it was really nice to find proof that one of Dick's books had finally been adapted to film in a manner that did justice to the source material. The only disappointment I feel is that I no longer have this book to look forward to, though I am certain that I will return for a reread at least once or twice in the years to come.
Thus ends my Dick binge of 2012. I've made it through a good number of the author's books by this point and the only major work still remaining are his Exegesis books (VALIS, Radio Free Albemuth, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, which I will get to at some point down the road when my mind is on more firm ground than it is after devouring five reality-shifting books....more