I read The Cabin at the End of the World earlier this year, and I hate myself for taking so long before starting to read any of Paul Tremblay’s books. But with Growing Things I didn’t hesitate at all and I grabbed a copy as soon as I saw it on the shelves of a bookshop.
Growing Things is a collection of horror stories, but the horror element is not sudden or over the line, it’s more a sneaky feeling that makes its way through words and protagonists’ stories. It grows in the dark, like the many things that haunt these stories, and before you notice it they are all around you.
There are two things that made me love this collection. The first one is the stunning creativity that is possible to notice in every story. The problem I have most of the times when it comes to the collection of short stories is that the reading can become quite boring in a way (personal opinion here! Please, don’t judge), meaning that it’s hard to get attached to the protagonists and being involved too much into a story. This is where Growing Things is different, not only because you get deeply involved in what is happening and to whom, but also because every single story is narrated in a very original way. In Nineteen Snapshots of Dennisport, the narrative moves through nineteen photos taken during a childhood holiday. While the protagonist goes through them, he discovers what really was happening at the time, and he gets to know a version of his own past that he was unaware of. A Haunted House is a Wheel Upon Which Some Are Broken is an interactive story where we go with the protagonists over the rooms of the house she lived in, every room is still soaked in horrible memories. In Something About Birds we start the story with an interview to an eccentric writer, and then we end up with a weird meeting with humans having bird heads. All of these stories have a very original way of being narrated, and this can’t make the reading boring.
The other element I love about Paul Tremblay is how we never really know what is going on. The same happened for The Cabin at the End of the World. Yes, we have people telling us that the world is ending, but is that the truth? Can we trust them? I’m probably way too cynical, but my answer most of the times is “no”. The same is happening with Growing Things, the first story of the collection. The two girls are left alone by the father, who went out to find food. But the real question here is: is the post-apocalyptic feeling of what is happening in the world outside real? Or maybe the father is just an abusive parent or a drug-addicted, or simply someone that can’t really take care of his own children? The same works for It’s Against The Law to Feed the Ducks where we have a family on holiday who suddenly find themselves in, again, a sort of apocalyptic setting. In this case, we don’t know what is really going on. We have a feeling. A horrible feeling that something has gone wrong, but we don’t know what. In this story we are closer to the point of view of the kid and his parents are just trying to hide something horrible from him. What the hell is going on? is the question you’re asking yourself after every single page of Growing Things. And the feeling of uneasiness never really leave you.