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A history teacher begins his unorthodox senior course with clips from an ominous surveillance video, causing a student's home life to deteriorate along with the lessons. A girl with a second head that changes into different historical and fictional identities tries to find her father while figuring out how to handle Mom and the book club. A blog documents society's slow, unexplained but inexorable end, or is it only a collection of pixel-sized paranoia? A once-awkward teen holes up in a kiddie-themed amusement ...
A history teacher begins his unorthodox senior course with clips from an ominous surveillance video, causing a student's home life to deteriorate along with the lessons. A girl with a second head that changes into different historical and fictional identities tries to find her father while figuring out how to handle Mom and the book club. A blog documents society's slow, unexplained but inexorable end, or is it only a collection of pixel-sized paranoia? A once-awkward teen holes up in a kiddie-themed amusement part after the end of the world, and schemes to take Cinderella's Castle by force.
The Teacher 13
The Two-Headed Girl 24
The Strange Case of Nicholas Thomas: An Excerpt from A History of the Longesian Library 44
Feeding the Machine 61
Figure 5 72
Growing Things 83
Harold the Spider Man 100
Rhymes with Jew 105
The Marlborough Man Meets the End 118
The Blog at the End of the World 121
The People Who Live Near Me 135
There's No Light Between Floors 148
Headstones in Your Pocket 157
It's Against the Law to Feed the Ducks 175
We Will Never Live in the Castle 191
Posted January 7, 2013
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.
Posted September 16, 2011
IN THE MEAN TIME by Paul Tremblay is a collection of weird short fiction that lives up to its title, offering readers fifteen sociopolitical tales that inform us of inner conflict as well as interpersonal conflicts, world-ending plagues, psychological horror, and inconsolable loss as they lead us down dangerous avenues where adaptability and resiliency are the only means of defense and survival. IN THE MEAN TIME unfolds in a merciless world not unlike our own, and yet distinctly different from ours - as different and distinct as the writing style and literary voice employed in the telling of these tales. The first story-offering is titled "The Teacher" in which a high school teacher employs unorthodox methodology to instruct his students on the subject of violence. This story is one of my favorites. The rest of the stories in order of TOC are as follows: "The Two-Headed Girl" - in which a young child compensates for loss in a most unusual manner; "The Strange Case of Nicholas Thomas: An Excerpt from A History of the Longesian Library" - where readers of Tremblay's novella CITY PIER: ABOVE AND BELOW revisit City in a tale about the mysterious balloons of Annotte that appear every nineteen years and wreak havoc on the residents; "Feeding the Machine" - a cautionary tale about denial and sublimating suicidal urges; "Figure 5" - a visually stunning, other-worldly story about the merging of art and plague, bringing to mind the Garten der Luste triptych painted by Hieronymus Bosch, another favorite of mine; "Growing Things" - in which two young sisters battle urban botany gone terribly wrong; "Harold the Spider Man" - gives us a recluse who keeps some unusual eight legged pets with odd appetites; "Rhymes with Jew" - a sociopolitical tale about class distinction; "The Marlborough Man Meets the End" - three brothers wage war on advertizing and the destruction of habitat; "The Blog at the End of the World" - an online blogger who details mysterious deaths occurring in and around her city; "The People Who Live Near Me" - psychological horror utilizing the unreliable narrator in a tale about projective identification and decompensation, my third favorite in this collection; "There's No Light Between the Floors" - a nuanced tale with a nod to Lovecraft about the survivors of an apocalyptic event; "Headstones in Your Pocket" - a USA border patrol agent will stop at nothing to quell his haunted past; "It's Against the Law to Feed the Ducks" - a riff on Shirley Jackson's "The Summer People" about a family on vacation trying to cope with the disappearance of fellow vacationers; "We Will Never Live in the Castle" - another riff on a Shirley Jackson story, her famous and last novel WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE, in which a disenfranchised teenage boy sets up housekeeping in an abandoned amusement park after an end-of-the-world disaster has occurred, and lays siege to "Cinderella's Castle". Paul Tremblay is the author of COMPOSITIONS FOR THE YOUNG AND OLD, his first collection of short fiction; two novellas titled CITY PIER: ABOVE AND BELOW and THE HARLEQUIN AND THE TRAIN; THE LITTLE SLEEP and its sequel NO SLEEP TILL WONDERLAND, two Chandleresque crime noir novels featuring protagonist Mark Genevich, the narcoleptic detective.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
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]