The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay

Review by Brennan LaFaro

Whenever Paul Tremblay releases a new book, it skips the line to get to the top of my reading list. The Cabin at the End of the World has a beating heart at its core and an ambiguity that can’t be beat. Growing Things is one of the strongest collections you’ll read, packed to the brim with unique and boundary-pushing fiction. Devil’s Rock: great. Survivor Song: Fabulous. But as much as I’ve loved Tremblay’s back catalog, nothing has hit me quite as hard, made its mark as much as A Head Full of Ghosts.

Until The Pallbearers Club, that is.

Now, I refuse to pick favorites, but Tremblay’s newest release is not only of the best stories I’ve read in 2022, it’s up there with the best books of the last few years. Presented as a fake memoir, The Pallbearers Club is part coming-of-age tale and part supernatural mystery. Tremblay loses himself in Art Barbara, the pseudonymned narrator of the memoir, and in doing so, brings the story to life, but what really separates the book from something more traditional is the liner notes.

Someone is reading Barbara’s story alongside and putting in their two cents. I won’t spoil the identity of the commentator because it does begin as a mystery. The way Tremblay conveys a key relationship by dropping the reader into a conversation between these two characters rather than battering them with a linear narrative. Not only is it successful, but one could argue the book hinges on it. I wouldn’t be so cheap as to call it a gimmick, but rather a unique device that Tremblay uses masterfully to tell a story and engage the reader.

On a personal note, Tremblay sucked me in with the setting. A lot of scenes take place in Providence, and the story let me revisit clubs I used to frequent every weekend for live music, events like WaterFire that only a New Englander could truly understand. The setting pulled at my heartstrings as a local boy, but it is my belief that it’s illustrated so vividly that readers anywhere will be able to hear the music and smell the summer air.

The Pallbearers Club is a high point in the career of an author who practically lives in the stratosphere. A special book that I’ll be rereading regularly and thinking back on fondly years down the line.

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