Growing Things And Other Stories by Paul Tremblay
I would like to thank Lydia from Titan for an advance copy of this novel in exchange for affair and honest review
Publisher – Titan
Price - £8.99
Published – Out Now
A thrilling new collection from the award-winning author of A Head Full of Ghosts and The Cabin at the End of the World bringing his short stories to the UK for the first time. Unearth nineteen tales of suspense and literary horror, including a new story from the world of A Head Full of Ghosts, that offer a terrifying glimpse into Tremblay’s fantastically fertile imagination.
Fear is a key part of the horror story. It can be your bloodthirsty slasher out for the traditional teen rampage but in reality, most of our fears are more nuanced than a wisecracking killer. It can be the dark, silence, loneliness or death and for me these quieter intangible fears are the more unnerving. Paul Tremblay came on my radar a few years before the blog and his A Head Full of Ghosts that mixed exorcism and a reality TV show that gave me an absolutely classic spine-chilling experience. Even now I’m not sure if the ‘possession’ was real or just mental illness and even now debate which answer would be worse. He has a huge talent for making a story disturbing without going to much towards the gory end of the spectrum (until needed!). In this collection of his short stores across the last ten years we get to see Tremblay’s versatility as a horror (and even crime writer) serving a huge amount of strange, brilliant and unnerving horror. These are the kind of tales where you think aww what a beautiful picture…. hold on is that a dead body in the background?
Amongst the tales these were standouts (and this actually is a verrrrry srong collection): -
Growing Things – The opening tale is a classic example of the type of horror that Tremblay excels at. A strange pestilent plant is taking over the world destroying everything in its path. But this actually is just background material for a tale of two sisters and their father hiding in a house. What I loved about this is you’re expecting the threat to come from the obvious but instead we suddenly realise the real danger was internal and then you realise how various clues fit together it’s a worrying but impressive read.
Swim Wants to Know if it’s as Bad as Swim Thinks – Swim is internet slang for Someone Who Isn’t Me. Our narrator is someone we know did something that led to a forced separation from her child. But the day seems to be pointing to something horrible and destructive happening in her local town, so she and her daughter need to escape and hope to survive together while the events unfold. Tremblay across the collection has a huge gift for conveying different characters through voices and our stroppy, angry yet loving mother seems to win our loyalty despite her reckless attitude and behaviour. But this is one of those stories where the narration starts not to add up and the final scenes really can be read in many ways. It’s a brilliant yet terrifying example how we readers easily fit inside someone’s worldview even when they make little sense….
Something About Birds – A very different tempo in this tale (and I’m wondering if having a main character named Wheatley is a clue to the type of story this is). A blogger (those people are such pains) meets the reclusive author of his favourite ever short story an infamous horror tale that can be read in many ways. In reward for a good interview our blogger is given a small stuffed bird’s head as an invitation to a special event. A small seemingly inoffensive stuffed head as the tale progresses and we also get the bonus of hearing what is so special about this short story create a building tension that something truly terrible is unfolding. Lots of slow building tension and one of my favourites.
Nineteen Snapshots of Dennisport – This one really is one of my standouts in the collection. Our narrator has a photo album and for each picture we get a glimpse into his childhood family holiday many years ago. Tremblay makes each picture tell its own mini chapter allowing the reader to build up pictures of our narrator’s family and the secrets they’re keeping from one another. Slowly we see with adult’s eyes what’s going wrong and the final scenes are sharp shocks, but you may find completely understandable….
Where We All Will Be – a student wakes to find his father confused and wanting to go to somewhere mysterious. It’s a strange eerie tale mixing our student’s youth; his diagnosis of having a slightly different way of thinking and then coping with a huge unusual apocalypse. It’s a tale of love and loss and it a swirling mix of beautiful and disturbing imagery.
The Teacher – a class feel so lucky to get the cool teacher for their last year of school as they await the joy of finally becoming adults. The one teacher who truly gets them. But he’s decided to show the class some disturbing images and seems to have a darker agenda. This story has a brilliant sense of unexplainable wrongness – we don’t know why this is happening, but we see the kids slowly being worn down by their experiences, extremely creepy and yet just possibly ends on a note of defiance.
Notes for The Barn in The Wild – A writer here investigates the unexplained death of a backpacker in a strange barn. We are reading his notes after something happened but there are side comments and footnotes that just build up a sense of something happening underneath the story that is about to reawaken. Disturbing and that build up is delicious
A Haunted House Is A Wheel Upon Which Some Are Broken - this is my absolute standout tale in the collection. A horror story made up in the form of a choose your own adventure game. This examines the experiences of an elderly woman returning to the childhood home and relives her memories. The horror though may be more as we realise through the child’s eyes what was really going on at the time. Haunting, clever, heart-breaking and pure inventive genius.
It Won’t Go Away – The best friend of a midlist author dies suddenly. He receives a mysterious card and photo and tries to work out what happened – this a dark, unsettling tale possibly exploring depression and possibly something supernatural. You can read it in many ways and its truly heart-breaking in places at the problems you can’t solve or even see coming.
Notes from The Dog Walkers – A famous horror author has hired someone to walk his dog while on his holidays. The walkers send a little note after each day explaining how It went. They start pleasantly relating the day’s events plus confirming if pee or poop took place! But then the messages get thoughtful, disturbing and one walker in particular starts to show they an increasingly extremely focused interest in the author’s life choices. I love the way it transitions from funny to disturbing over the entries.
Her Red Right Hand – This features a famous comic book character and mixes grief, love and hope…
In conclusion Tremblay has an amazing ear for a character’s voice and actions. You get a sense of them being young, old, male, female, gay or straight. It’s a unique gift that some authors tend to not really understand. His writing style reminds me a lot of Shirley Jackson who also could make an everyday scene tale a weird right turn you aren’t expecting and that really makes me shudder even in daylight. This is an author I will definitely be watching out for future stories. If you enjoy dark tales that will make you do double take while reading, then this is a perfect collection to introduce you to a hugely talented author.