‘The Beast You Are’ delves into the mind

Bestselling author Paul Tremblay has released a new collection of short stories. While each story explores different themes and writing styles, the pieces are collectively haunting. // Photo courtesy of Paul Tremblay Audible

From American author and editor Paul Tremblay comes a new collection of short stories, “The Beast You Are.” Known for other works like “A Head Full of Ghosts” and “The Cabin at the End of the World,” Tremblay specializes in horror, dark fantasy and science fiction. Readers can find each genre within the 15 works in this new collection. 

Ranging in length, point-of-view and setting, the stories in “The Beast You Are” all share one thing: monsters. Not in the traditional sense of the things that hide under children’s beds, in their closets or lie deep in the woods — the monsters in Tremblay’s latest stories are more abstract, dealing more with the horrors of the mind than the horrors of sharp claws and fur. 

“The Postal Zone: The Possession Edition” is a series of emailed letters to a magazine regarding [fictional] staff writer Karen Brissette’s breakdown and critique of a horror-based reality television show. 

After each review, Brissette responds to the respective writer with gratitude, rebuttal, sarcastic quip, intrigue or some other commentary.  

In “The Last Conversation,” a patient known only as “____” wakes up in a sealed, sterile room. Throughout the person’s recovery, they receive instructions and care from a woman’s voice named Anne over an intercom. Finally, “____” is allowed to leave the room, and what they learn is as devastating as it is unexpected. The story is told in second-person, a point-of-view that uses “you” instead of “he,” “she” or “they” in reference to the protagonist, making the readers imagine themselves as the main character. 

In “The Dead Thing,” a teen and her brother cope with their parents’ divorce and  struggles with addiction. The girl’s younger brother brings home a box, which she thinks is a dead “thing,” but she cannot convince him to show her or get rid of it. Instead, she dwells in an uncomfortable, unsafe house while feeling swells of unequivocal fear at what her brother might have brought into his room. 

The collection’s titular story, “The Beast You Are,” is written as a free-verse epic poem featuring a world of anthropomorphic animals that must perform a gruesome ritual to appease the giant monster that rampages on their town every 30 years. The plot focuses on a dog and a cat whose fates become intertwined with one another, the monster and an ominous doomsday cult.

While intentional, some readers may find themselves frustrated with the vagueness of Tremblay’s antagonists or overall plot lines. In many of the tales, audiences will never find descriptions of actual creatures; instead, they watch the characters come to seemingly horrifying realizations or meet some unnatural — and unclear — fate. This vagueness in some of the stories creates a sense of unease and dread, which makes sense given Tremblay’s strength in horror and dark tales. In others, the suspense leaves readers slightly confused and sometimes underwhelmed by the lack of overt action.Regardless of opinions on the way the stories end, Tremblay undoubtedly has a talent for writing surrealist-horror scenarios inhabited by characters that audiences cannot decide whether to root for or not. Most, if not all, of the short stories have underlying themes of pandemics, trusting one’s subconscious, jealousy or grief. To be able to see these threads running through the text, however, it might take more than one read. Given how different each story is, Tremblay does not have an explicitly consistent writing style throughout the anthology. Instead, he leaves his signature in the works in the way that his writing evokes emotions from his readers. From first-person memory recalls to third-person narratives to letters and blog posts, “The Beast You Are” contains a multitude of writing styles for a wide variety of readers. This collection has the ability to satisfy fans of horror, dark fantasy, science fiction and anything just plain weird.