Author: Paul Tremblay
Art Barbara (fake name to protect the not-so-innocent) was an awkward adolescent, encumbered with a back brace and a steadily curving spine. He is now sharing his spiral into addiction through an unlikely supernatural memoir. Art claims that his friendship with Mercy was more than just two quirky adolescents with a fixation on booze and the macabre. Mercy was, of course, feeding off his life-force, and now she has her vampiric hands on his manuscript, red lining his mistakes and showcasing Art for the unreliable narrator that he is. Is this a story of a broken friendship, addled by booze, time, and a secret addiction? Is this a supernatural fable of a modern-day vampire with a creepy jacket and a Polaroid obsession? Is this an ode to 80s hair bands and people who never made it? Or is this just a three-hundred-page homage to “purple” prose? You tell me.
This is my second Tremblay novel, and I honestly don’t know how it made the cut for my book club’s selection. Very little happens here, but the writing attempts to make the mundane meaningful. What happens is a whole lot of nothing. The “weird” friendship is nothing and the true antagonist of the tale . . . is literarily a jacket that folds creepily in the dark. The “is she or isn’t she” vampire myth is hardly believable, much less engaging. What we have then is an angsty, outcast teenager who never grew up and adores verbose self-pity. Similarly, we have another angsty teenager who never got over the rejection of her friend and is now proofing his manuscript looking for answers and an argument. Perhaps it’s realistic – these two people who never amounted to much not being able to let go of a short lived and unfulfilled friendship – but it is hardly entertaining.
Of course, I kept reading The Pallbearers Club because . . . well . . . I’m pedantic like that. And honestly, I didn’t hate it, because I just love the very act of reading, of absorbing words from a page, of that perfect heft of a book in hand. And yes . . . the prose was overblown to the extent of even being self-mocking in its ridiculousness, but I did still appreciate the word play.
In conclusion, our showdown is with a creep dresser at night and the dreaded jacket. Only through Mercy do we get what we already know – our character is taking something that is increasing his paranoia – or he is willfully looking for another excuse. Either way, the plot is sad, but ordinary. It’s two lost people who could never connect, and one sick man whose pain medicines and alcoholism are causing him to hallucinate and to grow sicker over the years. I suppose it could have merit. The horror here is one of human failings, after all, and the mess we make of our own lives, yet ultimately, it’s a weak sort of introspection. Art is too absorbed, too much in denial, to truly be a character who demands empathy, and Mercy, for all her supposed pain, is just a disembodied voice. We never get her story, her connection to Art, the reason she lingers. What we get is an anticlimax, a lesson in self-indulgence, and a non-story parading as a horror novel wanna-be.
– Frances Carden
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