Author Paul Tremblay has long been obsessed with exploring new ways to deliver horror narratives.
From the dueling authorial voices and handwritten marginalia of The Pallbearers Club, his most recent novel, to the diversity of voices, techniques, and approaches used in Growing Things, his previous collection, Tremblay cares a lot not only about the story but also about the way it’s delivered. The Beast You Are, his latest short story collection, contains 15 tales, and only a handful of them could be called traditional — and even those have unique elements that make them special.
I reviewed Growing Things when it came out, and back then I spoke about the need to start talking about the Tremblay Mythos. The Beast You Are makes a strong case for this. There are many inside jokes, echoes of earlier narratives, and tips of the hat that fans of Tremblay’s previous work will have a lot of fun discovering. For those who are new to his work, the stories — a wildly entertaining mix of literary horror, psychological suspense, science fiction, and even a short epic poem about anthropomorphic animals living in a world that’s threatened by a monster every three decades — will be more than enough to make them immediate fans.
There are no throwaway stories in The Beast You Are, but offering a synopsis of each of them is impossible here, so here are some of the standouts:
“I Know You’re There” is a cerebral ghost story that follows a man’s struggle to navigate grief after the death of his partner. It’s at once sad and thrilling, surreal and with a creepy atmosphere that makes everything feel plausible.
“The Postal Zone: The Possession Edition” uses letters in the popular horror magazine Fangoria to revisit the world of Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts, a 2015 novel that chronicles the recording of a reality show in which a young woman was thought to be possessed. A fun story with multiple voices in which Tremblay tackles everything from online behavior to the way his work has been called ambiguous, this is an incredibly self-aware metanarrative that makes it clear that the Tremblay Mythos definitely exist.
“House of Windows” is a bizarre tale about a mysterious building that pops up out of nowhere and then grows, causing chaos in the city. Unexpectedly engaging and with the kind of ending that makes it feel more like the first chapter in a novel than a short story, this one shows just how much Tremblay can accomplish with a relatively simple premise.
“The Last Conversation” follows a man who wakes up in the dark in a room inside a strange place. There’s a woman there to help him get back to normal, but normal doesn’t exist anymore. Outside the place where the man wakes up, the world as we know it has ended. And, maybe, so has the man. Maybe more than once. Ambiguous until the end in a way that echoes some of Tremblay’s prior work, this one offers a heartbreaking explanation at the end, which may or may not be the end. Full of emotion and dealing with grief as well as a pandemic, two recurring themes in this collection, this story proves Tremblay is as good at pulling heartstrings as he is at scaring and unsettling readers.
One of the things that has made Tremblay one of the leading voices in modern horror is his ability to create unsettling atmospheres and deliver a stories in which readers have enough information to be extremely curious but where there are spaces for them to ponder and try to fill in the blanks. “Howard Sturgis and the Letters and the Van and What He Found When He Went Back to His House” and “The Party,” which appear here back-to-back, perfectly capture this aesthetic. In the former, a man receives a series of mysterious letters about a substance he sent to a company, but he never did, the company doesn’t exist, and things escalate quickly. The latter tells the story of two women, a couple, who go to a party where the theme is the end of the world. It ends — no spoilers here! — with a discovery that’s as bizarre as it is interesting, and which feels like the beginning of something.
Lastly, “The Beast You Are” is an epic about animals fighting monsters that reads like poem and demonstrates the author’s ability to entertain regardless of form.
Smart, self-aware, fun, creepy, and strange, The Beast You Are is even better than the outstanding Growing Things — and it further cements Tremblay as one of the finest voices in modern horror fiction as well as dazzling innovator of the short form regardless of genre. This collection shows an author at the peaks of his powers doing everything he can to push the boundaries of the short story.
Gabino Iglesias is an author, book reviewer and professor living in Austin, Texas. Find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.