Posts Tagged ‘Survivor Song (novel)’

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.

You would think that in the midst of a pandemic, nobody would be interested in pandemic fiction. Paul Tremblay’s new novel Survivor Song, released just last month, is about a pandemic (still trying to figure out if that’s coincidence or if Tremblay knew COVID-19 was on its way and wrote the story in response). And yet I, and many others, picked it up as soon as we could, and devoured it. I got it done in about a week, reading through the last half today. So yes, even in the midst of a pandemic, there’s an appetite for pandemic fiction. And Survivor Song is a welcome addition to the fold.

Survivor Song follows Dr. Ramola Sherman, a pediatrician experiencing a pandemic of her own in her state of Massachusetts. This one is a fast-moving form of rabies, one that affects its host within hours instead of days or weeks. As fear, anger, and conspiracy swirls around the state, Ramola gets a call from her best friend, Natalie, who is eight months pregnant and ready to burst. An infected man killed her husband and bit her. Thus begins a saga to find someplace to get Natalie treated, to save her and her baby. But with rabid humans and animals everywhere and time running out, can Ramola help anyone, let alone her friend and her friend’s baby?

A pandemic story with a slash of zombie thriller (though Dr. Sherman will remind you, none of the infected are zombies), Tremblay’s novel offers a stark, believable story of a disease running rampant through the state and the problems that come up in such a situation. That said, there are plenty of twists and unexpected turns, and they add to the tension of a clock running out of the story. Quite a few times I read something and was like, “Oh no!” or “Well, that’s a complication.” I also loved how Tremblay managed to hit on a lot of what we’re seeing in our current situation, including but not limited to: hospitals fighting an uphill battle; people not obeying health guidelines or employing easy “solutions” that are actually problematic; and crazy, convoluted conspiracy theories.

Also, that ending! Guy knows how to write a tense climax.

At the same time, there’s a deep-running love story here. Not a romance story or romantic love, but love between friends and a mother and child. Through Ramola and Natalie’s interactions, and the messages Natalie leaves to her child, you really come to care for these characters and hope for the best despite the threat of the worst.

If there’s one thing I didn’t care for and would’ve liked to see changed, it’s the ending of the story for Josh and Luis, two teens whom Ramola and Natalie meet while trying to get to the hospital. They were in the story for only a short time, but I really grew to like those goofy nerds and would’ve liked to see more of them in the story, or maybe in a story of their own. And not just because they were Doctor Who fans (Whovians, unite!).

All in all, Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay is a thrilling and emotional read and perfect for these mad times. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the book a 4.5. Stay inside, grab a bite, and get ready for one roller-coaster of a story. Just hope the bite you grab isn’t something biting your arm off while you’re at it.

And while I still have your attention, guess what happened last night? Stephen King tweeted about this book, and I replied mentioning my progress in it and when I hoped to have it finished. He retweeted it. King retweeted it! And I’ve been fangirling ever since (while at the same time daring to hope this isn’t the last time I end up on his radar). What a world, right?