Paula Guran Reviews The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay

The Pallbearers Club, Paul Tremblay (William Morrow 978-0-06306-991-6, $27.99, 288pp, hc) July 2022.

Paul Tremblay continues his well-deserved suc­cess with his latest, The Pallbearers Club. This time out he adds some interesting twists. The novel is presented as a manuscript with notations, comments, and additions by another hand, that of a woman named (at least in the manuscript) Mercy Brown. Although it is supposed to be a novel, it is also the memoir of the pseudonymous Art Barbara. Although Tremblay is definitely not Art Barbara, there are self-admitted elements of autobiography. The Pallbearers Club is set from 1988 onward in the New England environs of both the fictional author and Tremblay himself. It also ties in with what Smithsonian Magazine called ‘‘the quintessential American vampire story.’’

In a desperate attempt to augment his nonexis­tent community service for college applications, Art, a high school misfit with scoliosis, starts a club to provide a local funeral home with volun­teer pallbearers and attendees for the deceased in need of such. It’s not, unsurprisingly, successful, but the club brings him into contact with Polaroid-snapping community college student Mercy Brown – who shares a name with Mercy Lena Brown of Exeter, Rhode Island, whose body was exhumed from her grave in 1892 on the suspicion she was a vampire of sorts. Of course, she’s not that Mercy Brown, but this punk music-loving, army-jacket wearing woman has some odd, even creepy, activities. Like using that Polaroid to take photos of the deceased. One photo shows ‘‘a green blob’’ hovering over a dead woman. And one night Art thinks he sees a blanket curl around Mercy’s wrist and pulse like ‘‘exposed musculature made of a glistening, convoluted network of connective and vascular tissues.’’

Art undergoes spinal fusion surgery, suspects Mercy of sucking away at his life (not metaphori­cally), and they part ways. Twenty years pass. Art attains some small success as a musician and gains an element of the cool he so completely lacked as a teen. Mercy re-enters the picture, and Art’s life starts to disintegrate.

Is Art dooming himself to failure? Is the super­natural at play? Is Mercy what Art believes her to be? Is Art what he fears he is becoming? What do we make of Mercy’s intrusions into the manu­script? What’s real and what’s not? Wait. This is fiction. None of it is real. But Tremblay ensnares the readers so well one doesn’t dare stop reading The Pallbearers Club. One caution: Read it in print or listen to the audio version. An eBook can’t really successfully convey the format.

Paula Guran has edited more than 40 science fiction, fantasy, and horror anthologies and more than 50 novels and collections featuring the same. She’s reviewed and written articles for dozens of publications. She lives in Akron OH, near enough to her grandchildren to frequently be indulgent.

This review and more like it in the November 2022 issue of Locus.

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