You Will Grow into Them by Malcolm Devlin (book review)

‘You Will Grow Into Them’ is an anthology of short stories from the pen, computer, word processor or whatever of Malcolm Devlin. Some of them have been previously published in ‘Interzone’, ‘Black Static and ‘Aickman’s Heirs’, which I presume is an anthology. Others have not, so far as one can tell, been published elsewhere. I mention the previous appearances just to make it clear that this is not a ragtag bag of rubbish from the trunk dumped on an unwary public. Hardnosed magazine editors paid good money for most of these stories, so you can rest assured there is quality here.

‘Passion Play’ was first published in Black Static # 38 and concerns the disappearance of a young girl named Cathy McCullough. Almost the whole story, except for flashbacks, is concerned with her ex-best friend following in her footsteps for one of those re-enactments, trailed by police and media persons. The two girls had discovered something in the background of the pictures which comprised the Stations of the Cross in their local church. Enchantingly, one is drawn into the characters, the background and the mystery. Annoyingly, the ending is vague.

This is also the case with the next story ‘Two Brothers’. Two rather posh brothers live in the country with servants and their stern, aloof father is away most of the time. The elder brother goes to school and comes back different, more like father. The younger is baffled and annoyed by this. Then he goes out into the woods and finds a doppelganger of his brother living wild there, half-starved and dishevelled. How? Why? You never find out.

‘Breadcrumbs’, first published in Interzone # 264 is about some people living in a block of flats when a giant plant starts growing up through it and they begin turning into animals. The characters were intriguing, the prose a delight and the story made no sense. My impression is that this is a very modern kind of weird fiction in which something happens just because it does and the reader goes along for the ride. I went along for the ride on all three of these stories and quite enjoyed it. Honest.

There is a slightly more traditional narrative with ‘Her First Harvest’ which appeared in Interzone # 258 and is Science Fiction. Having come up with the idea of a mineral rich world with no plant life where the colonists grow crops on their own backs how do you make a story from it? Many writers would have gone for something melodramatic: a disease killing the crops or a marauding insect. Devlin goes the Jane Austen route and shows us a young lady going to her first Harvest Ball, which given the circumstances here is more important than usual. She’s from out in the sticks and making her debut among the sophisticates of the big city. This low key treatment is very effective, though I don’t think the basic idea works mathematically. Can one person grow enough on herself to feed herself? Probably not, so how can a whole population grow enough on themselves to feed themselves? If there are other food sources they are not mentioned. Even so, the concept is so original that the reader is willing to let that go, especially as the story had a satisfying conclusion.

‘We All Need Somewhere To Hide’ has Alce the exorcist ousting a demon and then going home to her nice boyfriend, who has no idea what she does for she tries to keep him well away from the dangerous world of her work. An original concept here is the Sculptor, a kind of supernatural being who can reshape flesh. This was a very moving story and, although the ending didn’t make it absolutely clear what happens next, it gave you a pretty good inkling.

‘Dogsbody’ is an odd werewolf story. There’s a new question on job application forms: ‘On November 17th 2010, were you affected by Lunar Proximity Syndrome?’ Gil McKenzie was and so he’s reduced to working as a building labourer. Obviously, there’s no explanation as to why thousands of people turned into werewolves for three hours on that day, something genetic is one theory, but, even though it hasn’t happened again, no one quite trusts them. I can vouch for the veracity of Devlin’s portrayal of life on a big building site and the story developed nicely with the lead character achieving some self-awareness. Jolly good.

‘The Last Meal He Ate Before She Killed Him’ is set in a totalitarian future ruled over by the Autocrat. A loyal General was poisoned by a treacherous female and the dinner is re-enacted every day with her humbly serving the guests, albeit with no poison. Entrance is limited but Administrator Zeitler holds a lottery every so often and those who draw the winning ticket get to accompany him to the house. Our hero is Dominik, a humble filing clerk seeking promotion. This story delivered an almost Pinteresque sense of menace and had a terrific ending. too.

In ‘The End Of Hope Street’, the dwellings in the titular address become ‘unliveable’ one by one, which means anything inside dies. Most people wake up with a feeling of panic and get out but a few are caught. It’s a close community and some go to live with their neighbours. This is as beautifully delivered as all the other stories with interesting and varied characters true to modern life. Why no one went to the police or the media or an exorcist to solve the problem is not an issue raised.

Like most single author anthologies ‘You Will Grow Into Them’ by Malcolm Devlin is a curate’s egg. Everything is written with a smooth professionalism of the first order. He really gets into the heads of his diverse and interesting characters and delivers the action in fluent prose that many writers will envy. Since this is the ‘new weird’ or ‘magic realism’ or whatever he doesn’t have to explain things or tie up loose ends in the manner of traditional fiction. As with Caitlin R. Kiernan, Devlin does words, character and atmosphere well enough to get away without a solid plot. Actually, there is a plot but sometimes there isn’t an ending. If you like that kind of thing then this is a book you will love. If you find stories without a wrap-up, all clear, everything explained ending really annoying these stories are not suitable. You won’t grow into them. I prefer a good climax but fine writing can make me forgive the lack of it and Malcolm Devlin writes well enough to be forgiven.

Eamonn Murphy

May 2017

(pub: Unsung Stories. 344 page paperback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-90738-943-6)

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