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Friday, May 17, 2019

What I'm Reading: Growing Things by Paul Tremblay

The current issue of Booklist has my star review of this book. As usual, I have reprinted the longer draft version here on the blog and have included my "Three Words" and further appealinformation to help you to hand sell it to patrons even if you haven't read it yourself.

Growing Things and Other Stories.

 Tremblay, Paul (author). July 2019. 352p. Morrow, $25.99 (9780062679130)
REVIEW. First published May 15, 2019 (Booklist).
“Icky and morbid, yes, but that’s kind of what I do,” states a very self aware Tremblay [The Cabin at The End of the World] in the notes section for his new collection of 19 stories, two of which are brand new. This volume showcases why he is so popular with a wide range of readers. Brilliantly taking ordinary situations [a summer’s day at the local pond, an author reading, AP History class, a family vacation], Tremblay seamlessly sprinkles in a sense of unease that quickly builds to tension, climbs to overwhelming dread, and finally leaves readers at the story’s end with a sense of pure horror, a horror that seeps into their skin and lingers even as they turn the page to start the next story. “Notes From the Dog Walker,” a brand new story and one of three that is directly connected to Tremblay’s previous novels, is the among the most impressive here. Told in a series of messages left by the various dog walkers to the owner begins innocently literal, slowly becoming odd, moving to awkward, and ultimately spiraling into intense discomfort all while also thoughtfully breaking down the current state of horror fiction and connecting the universes of Tremblay’s own recent novels. Readers need not know anything about Tremblay’s previous work to enjoy these stories, however.  All are anchored by a strong narrative voice, be it first person or omniscient, which expertly guide the reader through the extremely dark emotions Tremblay is invoking, smoothing out what could be a very bumpy ride and making the journey into the terrifying depths of darkness an enjoyable reading experience. These are stories that live in the increasing popular space between literary fiction and horror, where speculative terrors and very real universal truths collide much like the works of Stephen Graham Jones, John Langan, and Jac Jemc.

Further Appeal: I cannot stress enough how immersive these stories are. They lull you into complacency with what seems like an ordinary situation, and even though you know better, both because you know Tremblay is an award winning horror writer and because the undercurrent of dread and unease is there from the star. Then they build deliberately but you are also enjoying the reading experience, so part of your brain ignores the warnings wanting to keep turning the pages, but your body can feel the coming terror. And then, just seconds before your brain catches up to your body....you get walloped. But here's the thing. You finish the story, take a breath, and want to dive right back in. I am not sure how he does it, but it works, every. single. time. Novels and stories.

Instead of listing stories and giving you a summary [I could only fit one in the review] I am going to let you discover each but here are some [vague and out of order] notes about some of my favorites [and why I loved them]. There is a life changing family vacation story, told through snapshots that perfectly encapsulates what I just wrote in the paragraph above, a story about an author reading that shook me emotionally but also gave me a lot to think about, a take on a choose your own adventure haunted house story that is also an emotional tale about family and regrets, a straight up Lovecraftian homage, an unsettling day at the local swimming hole, and the title story which is a satisfying read for A Head Full of Ghosts fans but also would be fun for new fans.

    Also, I should note that there are author notes on the stories in the back. I read each note after finishing each story and all enhanced my reading experience. In the entire collection, there was only one story I did not care for, but that was more me and what I like. There was nothing wrong with it as a story, and the author's note made me appreciate it more.

    The most defining thing about Tremblay's horror writing is that he builds worlds filled with dread and the possibility of a supernatural reason for the terror you feel, but you can also find a way to explain the horrors in a 100% realistic way. I think this is why he is so popular. 

    His writing is stellar with thought provoking plot lines and and strong characters [who even if not one of the "good" guys you still feel some sympathy for them], but also the voice through which he tells each story, draws you in and takes over in your brain.

    Three Words That Describe This Book: strong narrative voice, uncomfortable, thought provoking

    Readalikes: Besides the three I wrote above, other authors I would suggest are Laird Barron [one story is an homage to him], Nadia Bulkin's She Said Destroy, Nick Mamatas' The People's Republic of Everything and Samanta Schweblin.

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