Posts Tagged ‘A Head Full of Ghosts’

With books like A Head Full of Ghosts, The Cabin at the End of the World and Survivor Song (which I still say would make a great stage musical), The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay has been one of the most anticipated novels of 2022. I got my copy almost as soon as it came out, but because my life has been busy lately, I only just finished the book today. So now, as I feel obligated to do, I’m writing my review.

The Pallbearers Club follows a man who calls himself (or the version of himself in the novel/memoir he is narrating) Art Barbara. Seeking to pad out his college applications, Art starts the Pallbearers Club, a volunteer club where members show up to funerals for the homeless and lonely, and then carry them out to the hearse (because who wants no one to show up to their funeral?). At one of these funerals, Art meets Mercy Brown, a strange college girl who both opens up Art’s world and sets him on a path that will affect him through his adulthood. And maybe even beyond.

For starters, the novel is creative in its presentation. It’s written primarily by Art on a computer, while Mercy’s red-inked, handwritten notes speckle the margins and bookend each chapter. It allows you to learn a lot about each character, who are both somewhat unreliable narrators for each their own reasons, and there’s a lot of reflections on topics like memory and identity. It also makes me wonder what the audio book is like, because Mercy’s notes are a big part of each chapter. Does her narrator interrupt the text every now and again?

I also like how Art uses unusual adjectives while he writes, and the best parts of the novels are probably the sections set in Art’s teenage years during the late 80s. You really get to know and like the characters the best at that point, and it’s among the best examples of 80s nostalgia I’ve come across.

That being said, there’s a lot about this novel that rubbed me the wrong way. My biggest issue is the story, or almost lack of one. Art spends a lot of time going through the major points of his life, especially where Mercy is part of his life, but it becomes a slog because he hits you over the head at times with how little self-esteem and how much self-loathing he has. It’s okay early in the book, because he’s a teenager and those are always difficult times and Mercy is at least opening up his world. But after graduation, Art seems intent on just making you hate him as much as possible.

Which might be okay if Mercy or the plot helped balance the story out, but they don’t. Even with her notes, Mercy’s so intent on being edgy and mysterious that we really don’t get to know the real her, and it makes it hard to see her as a character and more as a mystery. Again, fine early in the book, but after a while, we get tired of it.

There’s also not a lot happening in the book. At least, not as far as horror novels go. The New England vampire lore is part of the story, but not in a significant way like I’d expected. It becomes more like a background theme, kind of a parallel about aging, health problems, and our own anxieties and delusions are like vampires on us and we wonder where in the hell they come from. Which is fine, if the story is interesting or the the lore is utilized in the right way.

The Pallbearers Club didn’t do it in the right way. I feel like it was trying to go for what Revival by Stephen King did, which was show how a single man affected the life of an aging rocker throughout his life while mixing in the supernatural. But while it tries, it doesn’t succeed.

And this isn’t something I’ll deduct points for, but why pick on Def Leppard in the early parts of the story? That band is a big part of why I love 80s music, how dare you!

I normally like Paul Tremblay’s work, but on a scale of 1 to 5, I’m going to give The Pallbearers Club a 2. The way it’s written is creative and the initial chapters are great, but annoying characters and an unimpressive plot just stakes it through the heart.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. My next read will be The Devil Takes You Home by Gabino Iglesias, while my next review will likely be Tales My Grandmother Told Me by Heather Miller (read an advanced copy). You’ll know my thoughts on both in time.

Until next time, good night, pleasant nightmares, and 49 days till Halloween.

Having read, reviewed and enjoyed the author’s previous works–A Head Full of Ghosts and The Cabin at the End of the World–I was interested to read a collection of short stories by Paul Tremblay. And after I got my latest Audible credit, I downloaded it and started listening. And whoo-boy was that a collection.

Now as I stated in a previous post, with every collection or anthology you’re going to get some stories you like, some stories you don’t, and a couple you just don’t get. Thankfully, the majority of these I liked, and wow, they were good. My favorite stories, “Notes for ‘Barn in the Wild'” and “It’s Against the Law to Feed the Ducks,” hint at much bigger and darker events than what you’re reading on the page (or hearing in your earbuds, in my case). It’s kind of like cosmic horror, where only a little bit is peeled away for the characters and audience, but that one peek is terrifying. And those stories could be cosmic horror, depending on the source of the trouble (I won’t give anything away).

Another great story is “Notes from the Dog Walkers,” which is out-and-out hysterical! I was really surprised to find that story in there, given that this is a horror collection, but once I got into it, I couldn’t stop listening. It’s hysterical, and has some interesting twists to it. And there’s one more story titled–get this–“Untitled.” Not sure why, it just is, and I found it wonderfully weird. Definitely recommend for a laugh, especially if you’re familiar with Tremblay’s work and/or you’re aware of just how weird people can be sometimes.

And after the last story, Tremblay has a bunch of notes about each individual story, which I love seeing in a collection and don’t see enough.*

There was only one story I didn’t like, but it was pretty unique. It was kind of like one of those pick-your-own-adventure books from when I was a kid, only it’s a short story or novelette in a horror collection for adults. Not in itself bad. I actually find taking that sort of story for a horror story not aimed at the Goosebumps crowd an intriguing concept. I just have never been into pick-your-own-adventure stories. Might have something to do with the fact that I, as an author, like to control everything that happens in a story when I’m given power over it. Not just a character’s choices.

And as far as stories I didn’t get, there was just the one, revolving around a teacher and an AP class. I think it was supposed to hint at the effect teachers can have on students, but I guess I missed something, because I left it more confused than anything else. Or was that the point?

But the rest of the stories were really good, and I’m glad I got to listen to them.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Paul Tremblay’s Growing Things and Other Stories a 4.5 out of 5. Creepy and entertaining, you’ll enjoy it from cover flap to cover flap. Pick up a copy and see if it…grows on you too.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to summon dark spirits from the nether realms and work on a story for my own gestating collection. Let’s hope it comes out somewhat decent.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*And Mr. Tremblay, if you’re bored and happen to be reading this review, let me just respond to the comment about authors who have more ideas than time to write: I’m one of those authors, I’m only nicely dressed when I have to be, and be careful what you ask for!

I’ve heard everyone from Stephen King to members of Facebook groups I belong to raving about this book. Heck, some of the latter were raving about it months before the book came out (how they were able to do that well before the book came out, I have no idea). I remember listening to the audio book of Tremblay’s previous book A Head Full of Ghosts a few years ago and liking it, though I didn’t find it scary (see my review for my full thoughts), so I thought this was worth a try. And I’ll agree with His Royal Scariness, this is definitely Tremblay at his best.

The Cabin at the End of the World centers on Wen, a young girl and her two dads, Andrew and Eric, who are taking a vacation off the grid in the deepest parts of New Hampshire. At the start of the novel, a man named Leonard appears before Wen and attempts to befriend her. He is soon followed by three others who claim that Wen and her family are the key to saving the world. But to do it, a price must be paid. Thus begins a tense story of belief, insanity, and violence as Wen and her dads are held captive in their own cabin and given an impossible choice.

Like I said, this is a tense book, and an intense one to boot. Like A Head Full of Ghosts, Tremblay focuses mainly on the psychological state of the characters rather than outright answering whether what we’re reading about is actually supernatural or the delusions of troubled individuals (and like the former novel, there’s an argument to be made for either one). The result is that you’re kept guessing as to which it is while getting a very personal look into these characters as they deal with the stress of the situation. It’s powerful, and makes you really connect to the characters and want to keep reading to find out how the story ends for them.

I also liked how unpredictable Cabin was. There were a couple of instances in the story that really threw me for a loop. Heck, following one of them, I kept reading for several pages sure I’d misunderstood what I’d read or that Tremblay was pulling my leg, heightening the emotional impact when this twist finally sunk in.

Add in that the novel was a great example of showing diversity in fiction without being patronizing or just showing diversity for diversity’s sake (Wen is from China and her dads are a gay married couple), and that an actual medical issue is portrayed with accuracy, rather than in 99% of other stories, and you’ve got yourself a decent novel.

I don’t have anything that I feel like saying detracted from the book. Maybe I wasn’t scared as others might be, but then again, I’ve built up a tolerance to being scared. I still found it extremely tense and emotionally powerful, and I enjoyed it for that. And that’s good enough for me.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving The Cabin at the End of the World a 4.5 out of 5. Gripping with suspense and characters you truly feel for, you’ll have a very hard time putting it down while you read. Take a look and see why it’s one of the most talked about stories this summer (I’m hoping Rose will be one for this coming fall or winter). Believe me, you won’t regret it.