A man struggles to deal with the death of his wife and the odd messages that appear in her wake.
Gray’s debut novel—following two short-story collections (Museum of the Weird, 2010, etc.)—feels like an old-fashioned gothic tale as rewritten by David Lynch or William S. Burroughs; in her hands an unassuming Ohio town becomes a bottomless repository of strangeness and dread. The hero, David, is a disgraced former dentist who attracts police and media attention after his wife, Franny, is discovered dead in their home under unsettling circumstances: She suffered violent wounds, but David did nothing, staying with her corpse until the authorities arrived days later. David is clearly broken mentally, and he grows more paranoid as he discovers vaguely threatening messages on scraps of paper hidden around their home. (A typical one reads: “I will cross-stitch an image of your future home burning. I will hang this image over your bed while you sleep.”) David’s efforts to resolve the mystery involve a local cop, one of Franny’s former co-workers and a regression therapist who happens to work out of David’s garage. But resolution isn’t really the point, nor is realism. This book is a mood piece about loss and the way the outside world becomes intimidating after an emotional anchor disappears. In that regard, it’s often a very affecting and disturbing book: Gray regularly refers to wasps in the garage, Franny’s ashes and a damp decaying house to evoke disorder and collapse, and her deliberately flat and unaffected sentences increase the tension.
The book falters toward the end, as Gray tries to balance the oddness of her milieu with a sense of closure, making for a conclusion that doesn’t feel ambiguous so much as unfinished. Still, a striking debut novel from a writer eager to shake domestic fiction out of its comfort zone.