When I reviewed Growing Things and Other Stories, Paul Tremblay’s first collection of short fiction, I had this to say:
“Just as harrowing as his novels, yet far more experimental, the stories here keep you off balance. Unsettling in the best way.”
I stand by that description with his newest collection, The Beast You Are. If anything, this collection is more—more harrowing, more experimental, more unsettling. If you’re a fan of Tremblay (and at this point, anyone with even a passing interest in horror fiction should be), then you know his novels delve deeply into horror, of both the visceral and psychological kind. The amazing thing here is that few if any of these stories are straight-up horror. They occupy a sort of liminal space where the disturbing, the disquieting, the disruptive, and yes, the frightening, coexist with bravura, innovative, and unconventional storytelling. The result is an anthology of short fiction that sucks you in while keeping you off balance. No matter how far off the beaten path Tremblay travels, he never loses his way. This is a high wire act that he nails.
Honestly, that’s all I want to say about The Beast You Are as a whole. It’s one of the best, most satisfying collections I’ve read in a long time. In fact, between this and the last book I read, Eric LaRocca’s brilliant short story collection The Trees Grew Because I Bled There, I feel like I’m on an exemplary short fiction roll. Yay, horror!
What I do want to do is call out a few of my favorite stories. These are the ones that I keep coming back to, that have stayed with me since I finished the book.
Ice Cold Lemonade 25¢ Haunted House Tour: 1 Per Person—Starts the collection off on an extraordinarily high note with a creepy, yet weirdly nostalgic tale in which Tremblay himself is the main character.
The Postal Zone: The Possession Edition and Red Eyes—Two stories that call back to, and include characters from, Head Full of Ghosts, the first novel by Tremblay I ever read, and still one of the most terrifying. The Postal Zone in particular is worth the price of admission all by itself.
House of Windows—A strange, hypnotic story with almost a Twilight Zone feel, if Rod Serling was feeling particularly absurdist.
The Last Conversation—I read this one, then went back to the beginning and read it again. Written in intimate, oppressive second person. Profoundly unsettling.
The Large Man—Feels like a long-lost classic from Kafka.
The Beast You Are—Of the many excellent stories here, I think this is the one people are going to be talking about. A novella written in free verse, The Beast You Are is almost impossible to describe, but I’ll give it a try. It’s as if Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Aesop’s Fables, Animal Farm, and The Lorax were put into a blender, then poured out onto page after page of stunning, transcendent language.
Finally, Tremblay ends the collection with the kind of detailed story notes I’m a total sucker for. Don’t miss them.
The Beast You Are debuts July 11, 2023. Pre-order it now, so you don’t miss it!