“What if the part you so achingly want to fix, change, banish, or destroy is the part that is fundamentally you?” (Tremblay 217).
When Art Barbara was in high school he was not cool. A loner who listened to metal, he decided to start a extracurricular club for volunteer pallbearers to help at poorly attended funerals. At one funeral he meets Mercy, a cool, punk girl with a Polaroid picture she uses to take pictures of the corpses before the service. Which is weird, along with her knowledge of creepy New England folklore. Strange things happen to Art around Mercy, and decades later he decides to write it all down in his memoir. But Mercy has found the memoir, and she has some issues with how Art has remembered some things and isn’t afraid to make some cuts.
I won’t lie, I had a rocky start when reading The Pallbearer’s Club. It takes quite a bit of effort to get through Art’s narration, which isn’t great considering he’s the main narrator of the story, but I also think that’s the point. Canonically, this is Art Barbara’s unpublished memoir, and since it’s unpublished the unpolished feel to the story we’re reading makes sense. It’s a creative choice by Tremblay, but I worry that a lot of reader’s will drop this book or won’t even give it a chance because Art’s voice, full of self-deprecation and run-on-sentences, just isn’t very interesting (and I’ve seen more than a few DNF’s for this very reason on my Goodread’s feed).
In comparison Mercy’s secondary commentary at the end of Art’s chapters and her marginal annotations are a delight to read which makes things interesting. The Pallbearer’s Club deals quite a bit with unreliable narration, Art claiming his recollections are correct because he’s writing a memoir and therefore what he’s telling the audience has to undeniably be true, right? But then we have Mercy contradicting Art’s narration, going so far as to call his memoir a novel because of how incorrect Art’s memory is. And because Mercy’s narration is more fun and easy to read, it makes reader’s more likely to be on her side versus the “author’s” work that we’re reading, and arguably we’re our own unreliable narrators, so is Art fooling himself and Mercy’s claims are correct? It makes the whole idea of memory and how we perceive the same events can be different individually.
What I found interesting too is Tremblay’s own admission that Art is and isn’t him, because Art is a character with such low self-worth who tends to look at things so negatively and is sort of a downer (which is understandable in some sense), and it just makes me wonder why Tremblay would want to put a character that is but isn’t but mostly is him in his book when Art is written that way. What does it mean for the author to insert a version of themselves in their fiction? How does that change the themes of memory and truth and reliability of narration?
The book definitely gets emotional in it’s last section. I was surprised by how hard it hit me in the end, how upset I was. And Art’s ending paragraph is truly astounding, Mercy’s of course just has me wondering more! I was also very pleased to find some nods to A Head Full of Ghosts from a mention of a certain priest and a little extra from Mercy at the end. It was a nice little cameo that made me happy to read.
While difficult to start, The Pallbearer’s Club is a book you’ll want to stick with. Heart aching and sure to fill your mind with questions, this is a book you won’t want to miss!
Publication: July 26 2022
Publisher: William Morrow and Company
Pages: 288 pages (Hardcover)
Genre: Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Thriller
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤.5
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.