The most difficult task facing the short story writer is deciding what to leave out, how to create those gaps in the story or character that best reveal the story or character; what to resolve and what should remain ambiguous. After reading these stories I am convinced that Tremblay is a master at evoking images by using shadows, at creating worlds by ending them. His prose is indelibly vivid nonetheless: Starkness is drawn in bold strokes, while plenty is shaded in transparent lines. There is a certain wonderful rhythm to his prose as well, that both pushes and pulls at the reader.
These are not crime fiction stories, although occasionally a crime occurs. If a label is required, speculative fiction will do as well as any other, but writing of this caliber requires the dismissal of categories and genres in favor of simply saying, "yes, read this." Each story becomes a lesson in dread as the author finds the reader's nerve bundles and presses lightly, casually, just letting you know the damage he could do if he wanted. These stories are less about horror than they are horrifying. But in a gentle, subtle way that really gets the lizard brain screaming danger, danger!
I was floored by the very first story, The Teacher, about a hip teacher and his special class in American History, and the effect of that class on one student in particular. No praise I can heap on this story will do it justice, so do yourself a favor and click here to read this story for free. But the leaps of imagination that occur from story to story, the unspoken human entanglements, the deft exposure of great mysteries in small moments -- you will need to read the entire collection to fully appreciate Tremblay's gifts. Check that, you may need to read some of these stories more than once, so nuanced are they.
The Blog at the End of the World is a story perfectly so attuned to how we communicate today, that one could almost search and find such a blog about a medical panic. The End of the Marlborough Man is a brief self-defeating moment of victorious anarchy. And then there's Growing Things, a heartbreakingly irresolute tale about two little girls in a cabin surrounded by plants -- this story should be read alongside Zeltserman's The Caretaker of Lorne Field, for a study in compare and contrast. And it makes me wonder, since both authors dwell up Massachusetts way, what the hell are they drinking up there and could I have some, please?
Charles Tan has written an excellent review of IN THE MEAN TIME at Bibliophile Stalker. I could not say better than he what is so remarkable about this collection:
"With Tremblay, there’s no dramatic music to clue you in that this is the part where you’re supposed to scream. In fact, most of the text is a gradual revelation and it’s only in retrospect that you come to realize hey, this is genuinely creepy stuff."The readers of this collection are akin to frogs about to be cooked: Toss us in the boiling water and we'll jump right out of the pan. Toss us in cold water, turn on the heat and let the water come to a gradual boil, then we frogs will happily allow ourselves to be cooked and eaten. And, brother, Tremblay makes a meal of us.