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In the Mean Time

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  • Posted January 7, 2013

    I first saw Paul Tremblay's name mentioned in the blogs of sever

    I first saw Paul Tremblay's name mentioned in the blogs of several other writers I enjoy, so it should be no surprise that I enjoy the fictional worlds he creates. I love the way Tremblay balances strange and playful elements against emotional realism and seriousness. These stories take chances, but never leave the reader behind in pursuit of writerly flourishes or abstractions.

    The bulk of the collection is comprised of whimsical yet dark pieces existing in a sort of no-man's-land between genre fantasy, thinking person's horror and the absurdist-realist balancing act of Aimee Bender or Donald Barthelme. Think "weird fiction" in the modernist sense, rather than Weird Tales or Lovecraft. Many of these stories would be as much at home in the New Yorker as a genre periodical, though the oddity and off-kilter of Tremblay's work will certainly please readers geared toward the fantastic or the dark. 

    Earlier pieces address birth, childhood and youth, as in the memorable "The Teacher," where a class full of kids follow a teacher to cult-like extremes in pursuit of a difficult lesson, or "It's Against the Law to Feed the Ducks," which depicts a strange family vacation full of delusion and deception. In the middle are a few slight pieces, more like vignettes than stories, but later on the collection moves on to address post-apocalypse or "breakdown of society" scenarios, in every case without explaining what happened, or how. "We Will Never Live in the Castle," in which characters try to survive in an a disintegrating amusement park, is a highlight.

    Though often weirdly troubling, Tremblay's tales are direct in the telling, emotionally honest and straightforward enough to be easily understood. By turns funny, shocking, disturbing, touching, often all the above in the space of a single story, In the Mean Time leaves me extremely impressed by Tremblay's craft and his intelligence. I highly recommended this adventurous and marvelously weird collection. 

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  • Posted February 1, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Sometimes the apocalypse ends with a whimper, not a bang.

    This review was originally published at The Nervous Breakdown DOT com:

    When you enter the world of Paul Tremblay most anything can happen, and usually does. His recent collection, In The Mean Time (ChiZine Publications) defies expectations, the cover art a soft purple hue all filled with glittery type. It shows the faces of two sweet girls, which at first glance (pay attention, readers, the show starts here) could be two sisters sitting very close together, twins maybe. But no, it's a two-headed girl, the first of many things that are not what then seem to be, the first of many times where Tremblay takes you by the hand and whispers sweet nothings in your ear, all the while the world falling apart around you, infrastructures crumbling, supplies running out, strange diseases wiping out the populace. But beyond all of that is the emotion, the humanity of what it must be like to exist in such end days, and it is here that he ratchets up the stories to more than just post-apocalyptic terror, dwelling in the individuals and families that are struggling to survive, to connect, to have a normal conversation, a memory that doesn't send it all fracturing into shards of a former existence. It's here between the floors where there's no light, and yet, a sprinkling of hope.

    The first story in this collection pulls no punches, and certainly Tremblay started off with this unnerving tale for this reason. One of my favorite stories of the collection, "The Teacher" takes a normal group of high school overachievers, and turns their AP History class upside down (What's the saying? Those who ignore history are bound to repeat it?), showing them that the world out there isn't all puppies and Facebook and Algebra. Sometimes in the most banal of settings life is horrific, and the responsibility of it all starts with the individual:

    "We loved him before we walked into the room. We loved him when we saw his name on our schedules. Mr. Sorent says, 'All right, this is going to be a special class.' We love him because of the music and movie posters on his walls, the black stud earring in his left ear, his shoulder-length hair. We love him because of those black horn-rimmed glasses; the same glasses we see people wearing on TV and in movies. We love him because he looks like us."

    The key to this passage is in the final sentence, "We love him because he looks like us." But no, he is not like them, he has witnessed atrocities, and they have shaped him. The students have no idea what is coming next, they have not experienced life, felt the pain or seen the horror that he has, that most adults have, out in the "real world".

    [Review continued at The Nervous Breakdown DOT com]

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