I was fortunate enough to attend a reading and Q&A with Paul Tremblay in February (just before the world shut down), and in person, the author is extremely charismatic with a self-deprecating wit and Everyman friendliness. His dark humor is highlighted in Growing Things and Other Stories’ tent pole story “Notes from the Dog Walkers,” where a rotating group of a writer’s dog walkers leave increasingly unhinged notes to the owner. [Side note: if in your own life, you’ve never encountered a Geoff, Alisha, and KB, it’s quite likely YOU are the Geoff, Alisha, and/or KB.]
Overall, Growing Things provides a clear understanding of Paul Tremblay’s range; stories in the collection stretch far along the spectrum of dark fiction subgenres, from supernatural to bizzaro. However, what is clear from the collection highpoints of “Swim Wants to Know If It’s as Bad as Swim Thinks,” “Something About Birds,” “Nineteen Snapshots of Dennisport,” “The Teacher,” “(Untitled),” “It Won’t Go Away,” and “It’s Against the Law to Feed the Ducks,” Tremblay’s true gift lies in his psychological fiction writing. Each of these stories’ ominous moods slithers surreptitiously throughout its tale until culminating with a dreadful bite.
In “Swim,” a supermarket cashier may or may not have altruistic intentions in her insistence on rescuing her estranged daughter. In “Birds,” a struggling horror writer lands an opportunity to interview a veteran in the genre, and the subsequent invitation he receives has a heavy string attached. “The Teacher” opens with an exclusive AP class appearing to be led through an analysis of a film clip that captured a terrible act of violence. “It Won’t Go Away” surveys a writer’s struggle to make sense of a colleague’s horrific decision, and my three favorites in the collection, “Nineteen Snapshots,” “(Untitled),” and “It’s Against the Law,” follow families with young children on vacation in New England until the terror that silently simmers beneath boils to the surface.
Tremblay, an award-winning writer who still maintains a day job as a high school teacher, is a New England native. His strongest stories just happen to feature writers, educators, and or New England settings, but the reader need not share any of these background experiences to appreciate the terrible beauty Tremblay paints. The reader need not even be a horror aficionado. Dark fiction has always been a genre shoved to the back of the literary acclaim bus, but with talent such as Tremblay’s out there, it may gain some street cred after all.