In The Mean Time
Further proof that less is sometimes more, Paul Tremblay returns with a collection of shorts that excite the imagination with their potential. Not potential as in underdeveloped ability, because Tremblay has already proven himself an accomplished craftsman, but potential as in the expressing of possibility. Unfettered by the constraints of the novel, Tremblay is free to explore the mystery of vague ideas without rendering the work unfulfilling. The spaces between the words, where these stories live and breathe, represent the author at his most interesting, ensuring that In The Mean Time will resonate long after the last page has been read.
Best known (to some) for his narcoleptic neo-noir, Tremblay got his start in the realm of sci-fi and horror. The pieces in this collection, reprints and originals both, hearken back to these early days, taking on all-genre-comers. A teacher challenges his student's perception of inevitability and violence with an eerie video straight out of a Michael Haneke film in The Teacher. A young girl tries to navigate her teen years with the added burden of having a second head in The Two Headed Girl. A mysterious librarian who may never have existed writes about the disappearance of his mother who is alive and well in a Danielewski inspired bit of post-modernism called The Strange Case of Nicholas Thomas. A paranoid blogger weaves a conspiratorial tale of an epidemic of brain aneurysms in The Blog At The End of the World. A social worker befriends her patient in an Orwellian future of partisan politics in the provocatively titled Rhymes With Jew.
Tremblay is most successful when he plays it subtle, adding just a pinch of genre to these speculative tales, as in There's No Light Between Floors and It's Against The Law To Feed The Ducks. Thankfully, this is most of the time. Stories with more explicit genre elements, such as Figure 5, tend to be less effective overall. He takes ideas that seem silly on paper (a girl with two heads, one ever-changing) and makes them bigger than their conceits. He's good with a concept. He has the ability to make balloons scary.
He also seems obsessed with the end of the world. A good number of these stories in some way deal with cataclysm and apocalypse. Sometimes the cause is a mystery, and his characters quietly deal with the aftermath. Other times it is good ol' fire and brimstone. It's as if Tremblay is not satisfied with one potential future, so he compulsively maps out every possible scenario. Each one is unique, yet they all share an underlying sense of urgency. In Tremblay's universe, the end times are never an easy prospect. Then again, neither is puberty. Or pregnancy. Or child-rearing. Tremblay makes them all equally as intimidating and you will find yourself drawing disturbing parallels. It is as eclectic and cohesive as it sounds.
In The Mean Time is an eerie little collection that will unnerve you with its quiet moments even as it threatens you with society's end. Tremblay pushes all the right buttons, yet knows when to sit back and let the reader do the heavy lifting. Because the scariest thing about these stories isn't what's printed on the page- it's what takes place after the stories end, as your mind plays out the possibilities of each individual unknown over and over again.
Cult review of Tremblay's No Sleep Till Wonderland