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.