Kate’s Review: “The Pallbearers Club”

Book: “The Pallbearers Club” by Paul Tremblay

Publishing Info: William Morrow, July 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: A cleverly voiced psychological thriller about an unforgettable—and unsettling—friendship, with blood-chilling twists, crackling wit, and a thrumming pulse in its veins—from the nationally bestselling author of The Cabin at the End of the World and Survivor Song.

What if the coolest girl you’ve ever met decided to be your friend?

Art Barbara was so not cool. He was a seventeen-year-old high school loner in the late 1980s who listened to hair metal, had to wear a monstrous back-brace at night for his scoliosis, and started an extracurricular club for volunteer pallbearers at poorly attended funerals. But his new friend thought the Pallbearers’ Club was cool. And she brought along her Polaroid camera to take pictures of the corpses. Okay, that part was a little weird. So was her obsessive knowledge of a notorious bit of New England folklore that involved digging up the dead. And there were other strange things – terrifying things – that happened when she was around, usually at night. But she was his friend, so it was okay, right?

Decades later, Art tries to make sense of it all by writing The Pallbearers’ Club: A Memoir. But somehow this friend got her hands on the manuscript and, well, she has some issues with it. And now she’s making cuts.

Seamlessly blurring the lines between fiction and memory, the supernatural and the mundane, The Pallbearers’ Club is an immersive, suspenseful portrait of an unforgettable and unsettling friendship.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel.

It’s finally time, everyone! Paul Tremblay has a new horror novel out, and it’s one that caught my attention VERY quickly when I read about it. For one reason, obviously, is that it’s Paul Tremblay. He’s one of my favorite horror authors, and one of the best ones writing today. But the bigger issue at hand is that while he has taken on other horror themes and twisted them onto their head (possession, zombies, ghosts, etc), he is taking on a subgenre that is near and dear to my heart, and that I am VERY picky about: vampires. I love vampire stories, but I want very specific things from my vampire stories. And Paul Tremblay gave me everything I need. Oh, and yes, like in most of his other works, I ended up weeping relentlessly by the end.

It almost always comes to this when I read his books. (source)

Let’s start with the plot and the way this story is told. The narrative structure of this book is so fantastic. It is framed as a memoir written by Art Barbara. Going in, we know nothing about Art, or why he would have written a memoir about himself. We also almost immediately notice that there are seemingly handwritten annotations and footnotes written by a mystery voice, and those footnotes are critiquing the story as written. We soon realize that this story Art is telling is about his friendship with mysterious cool girl Mercy Brown, whom he met through the Pallbearers Club, a group he formed in high school as a community service opportunity. Teens work at funerals of forgotten people to serve as mourners and pallbearers. Mercy saw the ad Art put out, and called him. Thus began a friendship built on punk music, 80s yearning, and a mutual interest in working funerals. Art for extracurricular brownie points, Mercy for… other reasons. As Art talks about their friendship, he slowly reveals that he believes her to be a vampire. Mercy, in the footnotes, is constantly questioning his words, editorializing, and it is through both of their POVs that we see a slow burn creepy story about toxic friendship and potential vampirism come to be. I loved how Tremblay decided to tell this story, as it makes both of our narrators have truths and lies that the are sprinkling in. And given that Tremblay is a master at creating deeply disturbing horror moments, the vampire stuff (as Art describes it) is well done, unique, and taps into an actual folktale from New England that is about, in fact, a woman named Mercy Brown who was thought to be a vampire. Look it up! Start HERE. I loved how he brought in this actual story of American mythology and connected it to a metaphor about toxic friendships. The vampire mythos that we get feels fresh and new, and it taps into the non-romanticized themes of vampires as users, superstitions around illness, and codependence. It’s so damn good.

Now I need to talk about Mercy. Mercy is the shining star of this book, of all Paul Tremblay books. He so effortlessly captures the ‘cool girl as seen through the geek boy’s eyes’ trope and turns it into something that is both malevolent as well as bittersweet. We have this great tactic in which we see how Art views Mercy through his memoir, and we also get to see Mercy’s voice not only tell him how badly he has projected his own insecurities into he perception of her (which I believe so many ‘cool girls’ have to deal with when it comes to these kinds of geek boys and their worshiping), but also reflect that cool girl-ness she absolutely DOES have, as well as the clear love (and resentment) she also has for him. There is no question that both Art and Mercy are terrible for each other, and that they both get a lot of things wrong about each other. But the way that Tremblay gives both of them voices to construct a broader truth is great, and he does it in a way that doesn’t make Mercy just a potential vampire that is also a well worn manic pixie dream girl trope. She is basically what I wanted Samara Weaving’s character in “The Babysitter” to be in terms of meeting her full potential, and I absolutely adored her with my entire heart.

Bee is pretty great too, don’t get me wrong, but Mercy is Bee with a bit more depth. (source)

And finally I need to talk about this pathos I keep mentioning. Because this book is just brimming with it in the way that Tremblay does. He really, really knows how to just gut the reader. As said above, Art and Mercy’s friendship is not healthy, really, given that the entire ‘is it a vampire thing?’ question harkens back to the parasitic nature of vampirism, and therein the parasitic natures of some bad human relationships. But I will say, without spoiling things, there is some serious emotional depth that Tremblay taps into with their friendship, about their mutual outcast status and loneliness that connected them in the first place, and at once makes you think ‘this is so unhealthy’, while also feeling the mutual, real love they have for each other. And, once again, I found myself bawling during a Paul Tremblay horror novel. God DAMN do I love how this man knows how to destroy my soul.

“The Pallbearers Club” is a phenomenal take on a vampire story. It is definitely my favorite of Tremblay’s books. I urge horror fans, especially if you like new takes on vampire stories, to pick this one up.

Rating 10: Loved it so much. Mixing humor, horror, and a whole lot of pathos, “The Pallbearers Club” is Tremblay’s best work.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Pallbearers Club” is included on the Goodreads list “Horror To Look Forward To in 2022”, and it would fit right in on “The Ultimate List of Vampire Books”.

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