Not my first read of the year, but it is my first CBR14 review! I’ve got a couple dozen other reads that I’ll get around to reviewing soon.
I received this ARC in a Goodreads Giveaway (my first! what a hell of a book for a first ARC!). It has not impacted the content of my review.
Art Barbara (not his real name, but it sounds anti-cool, don’t you think?) meets Mercy Brown (also not her real name) in 1988 at the second meeting of the Pallbearers Club he founded. It’s the two of them, plus a classmate of Art’s, volunteering at an empty funeral for someone none of them know. Art is 17, awkward, just trying to get an extracurricular on his resume so he can go to college. Mercy is ?? older?? and Art isn’t sure why exactly she’s there. Only that she takes a picture of the deceased and checks it for “evidence.” And she knows a weird amount about New England vampire folklore.
Over the next 20 years, Art writes a memoir about his unsettling friendship with Mercy, who hops in and out of his periphery, always seeming to ruin Art’s life just a little bit by the time she leaves. Mercy has found the manuscript, though, and feels the need to set the record straight. Who’s telling the truth? Does it matter?
I love books with annotations or footnotes. If I could figure out the formatting, everything I write from the shortest tweet to the longest personal diatribe would come with footnotes. For me, at least, the work automatically becomes more approachable and easier to engage deeply with. What context do the footnotes provide? Are they biased? Are they similarly biased to the main narrator? Do I agree with an opinion in the annotation? Why do I disagree? I usually find myself annotating along and on top of the existing notes, when I rarely annotate in other books.
All that being said, I understand in-fiction why Tremblay went with annotations here, but the book would be better served by footnotes. It may just need the final proof, but there were sections where it was difficult to follow the stream of annotations and the narrative because all annotations are in the outside, relatively narrow margins. In my opinion, if you go with annotations, you should embrace them and scatter them all over the page. If you’re going for readability you’re better served by footnotes.
Anyway. I liked the narrative, I liked all the characters — I would die for Mr. Stephens the funeral director — and the pacing felt good. Some of Tremblay’s past works have felt a little erratic to me, but this one was steady and fairly spooky the whole way through. I was reading in a hammock in my parents’ sunny backyard at 3 PM and I still got a pit of dread in my stomach when I got to a certain furniture scene.
It’s not genre-defining or particularly terrifying, but it’s still a very solid read. A word of warning for anyone else who was born in 1999 or later: there are a lot of ‘80s references that I just did not get. I felt like I was missing pieces the whole time. I could have used another layer of annotations, like for Shakespeare plays, to clue me in.
[Sidenote for people who get ARCs regularly: do they often have a fair amount of typos and proofing errors? I couldn’t stop myself from marking every one I saw.]