In Review: Growing Things and Other Stories

There are some gems in this collection, but more fall flat than not.

Growing Things and Other Stories by Paul Tremblay

Published by William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins, published on July 2, 2019. Hardcover of 338 pages at $25.99. 

The cover: The jacket design is by Mumtaz Mustafa and the jacket illustration is by Alan Dingman. Knowing nothing about this author or any of these stories, this is a solid image to tease the first work in this collection. Several tall green vines that spout red torns overrun the author’s name in white and the title below it in red. Clever. Overall grade: B

The premise: From the inside front cover, “Featuring nineteen pieces of short fiction, Growing Things and Other Stories is an exciting and disquieting glimpse into Paul Tremblay’s fantastically fertile imagination. In “The Teacher,” a Bram Stoker Award nominee for best short story, a student is forced to watch a disturbing video that will haunt and torment her and her classmates’ lives. Four men rob a pawnshop at gunpoint only to vanish, one by one, as they speed away from the crime scene in “The Getaway.” In “Swim Wants To Know If It’s as Bad as Swim Thinks,” a meth addict kidnaps her daughter from her estranged mother as their town is terrorized by a giant monster…or not. A young woman revisits her pretty childhood home and the ghosts of the past she cannot escape in “A Haunted House Is a Wheel upon Which Some Are Broken.” Joining these masterful works are stories linked to Tremblay’s previous novels. The tour de force metafictional novella “Notes from the Dog Walkers” deconstructs horror and publishing, possibly bringing in a character from A Head Full of Ghosts, all while serving as a prequel to Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. “The Thirteenth Temple” follows another character from A Head Full of Ghosts — Merry, who published a tell-all memoir written years after the events of the novel. And the title story, “Growing Things,” a shivery tale loosely shared between the sisters in A Head Full of Ghosts, is told here in full. In this dazzling compendium, Tremblay explores the devastating poison of nostalgia and regret that infects us, the grim visions harbored in twisted minds that tempt and terrify us, and the stories we create for ourselves and whisper to others to keep the terror at bay. From global catastrophe to the demons inside our heads, he illuminates our primal fears and tormented (NOTE: This continues on the inside back cover) nightmares in startlingly original fiction that leaves us unmoored. As he lowers the sky and yanks the ground from beneath our feet, we are compelled to contemplate the darkness inside our own hearts and minds — and remember that indeed, the world is full of monsters…of every shape and kind.” Thank goodness I don’t read the jacket text until after I’ve read the book. This is a ridiculously long tease to get readers to pick up this book. I’ve reviewed a lot of books and have never had the premise spill over to the back inside cover atop the author’s photo and bio. And could A Head Full of Ghosts be pushed any harder? This would turn me off from picking up the book, because I’m tired after all of this. Overall grade: D

The stories: Rather than my usual formatted reviews, I’ll just give a quick summary of each, my opinions of it, and a grade.

“Growing Things” is a good premise for a story that goes nowhere. The characters aren’t developed well and the ending leaves the reader with a “So what?” feeling. Overall grade: D+

“Swim Wants To Know If It’s Bad As Swim Thinks” is another poorly defined character, but with a rambling narrative that was uninteresting, and a giant afterthought of a monster that rumbles about and leaves. Again, “So what?” Overall grade: D-

“Something About Birds” is a step up simply because of the weirdness it captures. I couldn’t understand why the protagonist was so submissive to the character that intrudes his home late at night, but the conclusion turned the story around for being something that will leave the reader pondering what they read for some time. Overall grade: B-

“The Getaway” is a superior story that starts as a crime thriller and then takes a turn to strangeness. I enjoyed this thoroughly and found it outstanding. A great combination of genres. Overall grade: A+

“Nineteen Snapshots Of Dennisport” is another outstanding story and introduces a motif that’s later repeated in another story. The narrator discusses nineteen photographs taken during a family’s vacation. The descriptions are fantastic with the character’s voice strong. The conclusion is wonderfully dark. Again, a great combination of genres. Overall grade: A+

“Where We All Will Be” is another superb story. A young man is told that his brain is a little different from others and that becomes key when his father decides he has to leave the house. This was creepy and captivating. This reminded me of classic Clive Barker storytelling. Overall grade: A+

“The Teacher” was a disappointment. It’s a fragmented tale that starts with a decent idea and is too easy to guess the ending, especially if one has read the YA novel The Wave. This was boring. Overall grade: F

“Notes For ‘The Barn In The Wild'” is pure Lovecraftian goodness, with someone investigating something they shouldn’t have. Excellent voice, great twists, and wonderful ending. Overall grade: A+

“_________” was another vacation tale with something amiss. I didn’t care for any part of it and wanted it to end quickly. Overall grade: F

“Our Town’s Monster” had the potential to be something, but after the climax the epilogue felt forced returning to a “So what?” feeling in me. Overall grade: D-

“A Haunted House Is A Wheel Upon Which Some Are Broken” uses a clever format to tell a tale, however outside of being clever there’s not much to it. Overall grade: C+

“It Won’t Go Away” is a return to greatness with a writer again being the focus that has the protagonist finding something that precedes bad actions. Very enjoyable, but this had me done with Tremblay using authors as characters. Overall grade: A

“Notes From The Dog Walkers” is tedious to read. This is a tale in need of severe editing. The point of the narrators is obvious early on and became a labor to get through. And, once again, a writer becomes a focus. I would give a lower grade to this if I could. Overall grade: F

“Further Questions For The Sonambulist” has Tremblay again playing with the format, but not as successfully as the story three tales ago. This is a writing exercise and not a tale. Overall grade: F

“The Ice Tower” is a fun read of an event gone wrong. It was enjoyable, but ended too quickly. Overall grade: B

“The Society Of The Monsterhood” is the typical bullied kids make a group and get a protector story. Nothing new here. Overall grade: D-

“Her Red Right Hand” was a delightful surprise. Given my love of the hero of this tale, I was surprised I had not read this short story before. Youthful fear and strength are fantastic in this tale with an extremely clever title. Overall grade: A+

“It’s Against The Law To Feed The Ducks” is another family out and about with something not right. I’m done with Tremblay using this theme. Overall grade: F

“The Thirteenth Temple” has an interesting framing device for a large story, which sadly is not as good as the frame. This is the second tale that relies on numbering the segments of the story. If the reader isn’t grabbed by the first three, they’ll just read to get to the payoff. I’m guilty as charged here. Oh, and the frame involves a writer, again. Overall grade: D

Author’s Notes: I’m not a fan of authors discussing their works in the books that contain their fiction because the story should be so strongly written that it doesn’t require explanation from the creator. Thankfully, Tremblay primarily states what prompted each tale rather than explaining their meaning. Overall grade: B

The final line: There are some gems in this collection, but more fall flat than not. Some characters ramble incessently or tales have no conclusion, giving the impression the writer didn’t know what to do. As with all short story collections, there’s a little bit of everything; though after reading this I found the author focused too often on teachers, writers, and birds. I enjoyed the tales that combined genres, rather than the purely horror ones. This collection has me interested to read more shorter works by Tremblay, but, based on the longest piece in this compendium, I would not read one of his novels. Overall grade: C-

To see the cover visit my Instagram account: patrickhayesscifipulse

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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