cover image The Threat

The Threat

Nathaniel Stein. Keylight, $27.99 (192p) ISBN 978-1-68442-969-1

New Yorker contributing humor writer Stein debuts with a darkly funny tale of a man’s unraveling after he receives an unprovoked death threat. Melvin Levin, 41, is focused on gaining a long-awaited promotion at his unspecified corporate office job when he finds an anonymously written letter laced with hilarious misspellings and mixed metaphors (“You’ve worn out my patients for the last time and your through. My fury will rain down on you like a pack of rapid dogs and you’ll be flayed”). To Levin’s surprise, the attention paid to him by “the threatener” inspires newfound confidence. His gait takes on a “hint of urgency, conveyed mainly by a slight hunching forward,” and he adopts a superior attitude when a colleague shares a story of a comparatively inconsequential mugging. After the threatener sends photographs of Levin as proof that he’s being surveilled, Levin is keen to share them with coworkers until he realizes they’re unflattering. As he grows restless with waiting for the threatener to act and annoyed by his coworkers’ banal fixation on things like a retirement party, he finally forces a crisis, which the author resolves with surprising irony. Stein’s diverting story of self-aggrandizement is worth a look. (Jan.)