The Beast You Are Stories by Paul Tremblay
A Horror Book Review by Tony Jones
I am a major fan of Paul Tremblay and always enjoy seeing what he is going to dream up next, my personal favourites being A Head Full of Ghosts (2015), Disappearance at Devil’s Rock (2016) and Survivor Song (2020) which were all 5/5 reads. However, I was not so impressed by either The Cabin at the End of the World (2018) or The Pallbearers Club (2022), the former being a much-discussed polarising ‘love it or hate it’ kind of novel and the latter an oddball drama redeemed slightly by its numerous cool musical references.
Although Tremblay’s career really kicked off after A Head Full of Ghosts he has been writing for much longer and his recent success saw his first short story collection from 2013 Growing Things and Other Stories expanded and rereleased in 2019. His latest collection The Beast You Are features fifteen stories, virtually all of which have been previously published, with the exception of the 200-page novella also called The Beast You Are which closes the collection. The stories originally appeared in a wide range of impressive and highly regarded publications, some of which are no longer with us, including Chizine, Fangoria, Phantasmagorium, New Fears 2 (this book and its predecessor New Fears was an outstanding anthology edited by Mark Morris also on Titan), and highly respected Ellen Datlow edited anthologies.
If you are new to Paul Tremblay The Beast You Are is not the best place to start, instead try one of the novels I referenced at the start of this review, as many of the stories featured here are very short flash fiction pieces, quite experimental in nature and vary wildly in quality. Long term fans and completists may well love them and appreciate adding these to their collections, but to casual readers some will come across as self-indulgent or in the case of Red Eyes or The Postal Zone: The Possession Edition make limited impact unless you have not read his novel A Head Full of Ghosts. However, if you do happen to have read Tremblay’s sneaky Exorcist inspired tale The Postal Zone was a welcome return to old ground.
I was not surprised to read Ice Cold Lemonade 25c Haunted House Tour: 1 Per Person had been picked up for an Ellen Datlow anthology as it was a terrific tale, the sort of thing Tremblay does best, balancing ambiguity, childhood nostalgia, longing for a cute girl, whilst reflecting back on a childhood memory which resurfaces after many years. House of Windows, about a guy who works administration for a public library, only to notice a new building appear across the street from the library and for it to slowly get bigger was also an odd ball read. With the 60-page The Last Conversation Tremblay swerves into science fiction with a hospital patient waking up and no memories of what went before and you just know his nurse is dodgy. One of the creepiest highlights was The Dead Thing, which was featured in Mark Morris’s Fear 2, that and its predecessor rank amongst the best horror anthologies of the last decade.
Paul Tremblay is a great and amusing commentator on horror and his story notes are very conversational and enlightening, often providing context or quirky side-stories. Some of the briefer pieces were just too short to have much of an impact, there were a few exceptions though, in particular the four-page Mean Time about a kid fascinated by a neighbour who draws chalk lines for everywhere he walks. Other stories experiment with end of the world blogs, making a film pitch and an uninspiring creature feature, as is his style many have inconclusive endings. Although there are some decent tales in the first half of The Beast You Are, but it suffers from the fact that there are relatively few knock-out stories and even less in the way of scares. I am not sure how far Tremblay had to dig into his archives to pad this collection out as some of them did not make a huge impression, with the overall balance of the collection slightly patchy.
The final 200-pages are taken up by the novella The Beast You Are and I found this to be a real damp squid and a serious trudge to finish. It is written in what Tremblay calls ‘free verse’ which comes across as clunky and disjointed, this style of writing has become immensely popular in YA fiction and when done well the loose form of poetry flows easily from the page. This does not happen here, not does the verse feel like poetry, and this anthropomorphic allegorical story of talking animals falls flat, with a dog and a cat, living like humans, coming up against a monster which awakens every so many years. Tremblay notes he was inspired by Watership Down and The Secret of NIMH which are obvious points of reference, but he also name checks the excellent Ragged (2022) by Christopher Irvin which I would recommend you read instead of this annoying novella which soured the overall collection.
These stories cross a range of genres and show the versatility and range of Tremblay but do not necessarily come across as a cohesive whole. However, nobody could ever accuse this author of ploughing the same furrow, sure he has some misses and the closing novella is a massive misfire, but he likes to experiment and I will always be happy to return to sample what delights or oddities he has to offer.
The Beast You Are Stories by Paul Tremblay
A haunting collection of short fiction from the bestselling author of The Pallbearers Club, A Head Full of Ghosts, and The Cabin at the End of the World.
Paul Tremblay has won widespread acclaim for illuminating the dark horrors of the mind in novels and stories that push the boundaries of storytelling itself. The fifteen pieces in this brilliant collection, The Beast You Are, are all monsters of a kind, ready to loudly (and lovingly) smash through your head and into your heart.
In “The Dead Thing,” a middle-schooler struggles to deal with the aftermath of her parents’ substance addictions and split. One day, her little brother claims he found a shoebox with “the dead thing” inside. He won’t show it to her and he won’t let the box out of his sight. In “The Last Conversation,” a person wakes in a sterile, white room and begins to receive instructions via intercom from a woman named Anne. When they are finally allowed to leave the room to complete a task, what they find is as shocking as it is heartbreaking.
The title novella, “The Beast You Are,” is a mini epic in which the destinies and secrets of a village, a dog, and a cat are intertwined with a giant monster that returns to wreak havoc every thirty years. A masterpiece of literary horror and psychological suspense, The Beast You Are is a fearlessly imagined collection from one of the most electrifying and innovative writers working today.