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Growing Things and Other Stories


Growing Things and Other Stories

In GROWING THINGS, Paul Tremblay not only gives readers a diverse collection of short stories, but asks them to think about writing, genre and the role of the author in ways that challenge his own power as creator without sacrificing style or skill. The 19 stories here move beyond a narrow understanding of horror, opting often for sensation, thoughtfulness, and an exploration of fear itself over jump scares and gore. There are moments when the veil is lifted, and Tremblay seems to reveal himself, which is never distracting but intriguing. Thus it is a very writerly collection that still is enjoyable for readers.

The book opens with the titular “Growing Things,” which revolves around Merry, the protagonist of Tremblay’s novel, A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS. Merry is confronted with both the figurative power of storytelling and the very real threat of sharp and dangerous plants breaking through her house. It sets the tone for the collection --- more creepy than scary, somewhat ambiguous, and centered on characters rather than action.

"GROWING THINGS is a provocative book, showing some of the ways that horror and other genres can be thoughtful, wide-reaching and literary."

Merry is also the focus of the book’s final story, “The Thirteenth Temple,” in which Tremblay plays with the dynamic between reader and author, audience and creator. Decades after the events in A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS, Merry is on tour with her memoir. A fan has followed her to her hotel room, and she offers a story. The story about the cryptic and ritualistic building of towers both informs and distracts the stalker, giving Merry the upper hand. Once again, storytelling is the linchpin and heart of the narrative.

Several other stories also describe the relationship between writers and readers, including “Something About Birds” and “Notes from the Dog Walkers.” The latter, written as a series of comments left by professional dog walkers for the owners of a canine named Holly, starts off a bit silly, swerves into the philosophical, and ends up dark and threatening as one dog walker leaves demanding and personal notes for Holly’s owner, who happens to be a writer of horror. “Further Questions for the Somnambulist” is likewise philosophical, though the text is more experimental and poetic.

Just as with all collections, not every story is a winner. “Notes for ‘The Barn in the Wild’” is a solid tale but seems derivative of the true story of Christopher McCandless as written by Jon Krakauer in INTO THE WILD, even though Tremblay credits Laird Barron as inspiration. There are some standout inclusions as well. “Her Red Right Hand” packs in some tried-and-true tropes (old religion, dying parent, haunted well, demonic figure) and gives the protagonist, a young girl named Gemma, the strength and creativity to overcome the pain that has manifest as evil. “The Ice Tower” is about a mysterious and terrible ice tower claiming victims.

One of the absolute stars of the show is “A Haunted House is a Wheel Upon Which Some Are Broken,” and not just because of the amazing title or because Tremblay pulls off a Choose Your Own Adventure format. In it, elderly Fiona returns to the house she grew up in to confront ghosts of all kinds. The prose here is smart, sensitive, surprising and compelling.

Even as characters discuss the pros and cons of horror world building, the marketability of short story collections, and the role and responsibility of authors themselves, Tremblay, in examining these big literary questions, entertains. GROWING THINGS is a provocative book, showing some of the ways that horror and other genres can be thoughtful, wide-reaching and literary.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on July 26, 2019

Growing Things and Other Stories
by Paul Tremblay