Paul Tremblay’s tour-de-force story collection is a must-read, not just for existing Tremblay fans (the good news for those who’ve read his previous, small-press collections is that there’s only a small amount of overlap here), but also for fans of smart, literate stories that are more interested in evoking emotions from the reader than in tying things up in a nice, easy bow. Tremblay trades in the chilling and the unsettling, not in gore, violence, or classic a-monster-comes-to-town tales (although he does play with that trope in the story “Our Town’s Monster”). As a result, each of these nineteen stories will leave you feeling off balance and uneasy, concerned about the stability of the world around you and everything you thought you knew.
It’s hard to choose favorites from such a consistently excellent collection, but a few of the stories did stick out for me. One was the novella “Notes from the Dog Walkers,” one of two originals in this collection, in which a horror writer named Paul ___ hires a dog walking service. Each dog walker leaves a note for him afterward detailing how the walk went. Only, the notes get longer, darker, more intrusive, more passive-aggressive toward Paul and his success as an author, and weirdly personal as time goes on. I really enjoyed how Tremblay builds the slow escalation over the course of the story, leading to a very creepy ending. “Something About Birds” is another standout for me, a hallucinatory, surreal story that reminds me of the best, most ambiguous parts of the movie EYES WIDE SHUT, while also allowing Tremblay to articulate the power of ambiguity in fiction through the protagonist’s interviews with the reclusive author William Wheatley. I felt a deep connection to the story “Her Red Right Hand” as well, with its beautifully related message that creativity and imagination can help you get through an emotionally difficult time.
One word of warning, at least for the hardcover edition: Because Tremblay’s stories are so much more than the sum of their parts, and because they are designed to leave the reader with an emotional response rather than a plot revelation, the synopses of some of the stories on the flap copy are atrocious. There’s a far richer experience waiting for you in these pages than those synopses would lead you to believe.
Tremblay’s work continues to excel. I second Adam Neville’s blurb: “Paul Tremblay is one of the key writers who have made modern horror exciting again.” Read GROWING THINGS and experience why.