The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay

Art Barbara (alias) is writing a memoir about his relationship with a strange friend he made back when he was a teenager – a friend he believes to be a vampire. They meet through a small club Art founded at his school (because it would look good on a college application) called the Pallbearers Club. The purpose of the club, which ultimately consisted of just Art and his new, quirky friend Mercy, was to go to funeral homes and be the pallbearers to the deceased who had no family or friends to attend their wakes or funerals. The club members would view the body and stand witness at the wake, then they would transport the casket to the hearse. Mercy and Art bond over music, and they become the other’s sole friend. She even helps him with a history project for school, choosing to write about an old vampire myth about a girl named Mercy Brown whose family began to die one after the other. The townsfolk believed one of the members to be a vampire and dug Mercy up to cut out her heart and burn it. When Art begins to feel weak and drained after spending time with Mercy and his health begins to decline, he quickly suspects his friend of being the real Mercy Brown, and she’s latched onto him. We get Mercy’s side of the story because she found Art’s manuscript and, being less than happy at her portrayal in it, decided to jot down her thoughts in the margins and in between each chapter.

“What if the part you so achingly want to fix, change, banish, or destroy is the part that is fundamentally you?”

To me, this is a story about loss, but not just in regard to death. Mostly, it’s about losing yourself. Being so unsure about your place in the world that you begin to remove yourself from it, run out before you get kicked out. Throughout his telling of events, Art seems 100% sure he became a monster just like Mercy due to her feeding off of his life force. However, from Mercy’s view of events, it seems more likely that this belief of Mercy as a villain and himself as a monstrous creation is a form of projecting his worries and fears onto her and making her into a ludicrous but tangible nemesis. He struggled with social anxiety, self-doubt, and self-hatred his whole life and Mercy hints at a painkiller addiction and alcoholism throughout her notes. I’d say both of our narrators are fairly unreliable, but I tended to trust Mercy more than Art. She’s a voice of reason in a wildly unhinged story told by a man in physical and mental decline, and her voice is a caring, concerned voice. She even notes at one point, “For you, fiction and truth are one, the past and present are one. They always have been one.” This furthers the idea that Art is unreliable, but you must ask yourself, is this only a deflection?

“If hope is believing there will be one more moment of joy, then despair is knowing there was a final one.”

Despair is how I would describe Art’s state of mind throughout nearly the entire story. He never seems to have much hope for his life, his health, or himself in general. He doesn’t believe in himself in the slightest. I don’t know what he believes in besides his own downfall. His panic does include not wanting to become a monster who feeds off of others, but I think the biggest part of his panic comes from a fear of being stuck in his miserable existence for eternity. He ignores his health problems, abuses his body with drugs (presumably) and alcohol (definitely), then blames the way he feels on a random girl he met a decade ago who only wants to be his friend and help him. Again, presumably.

“I don’t ask for help because help means coping with the terrible thing and I don’t want to cope, to simply go on, and I childishly think coping hides the fact that there is no purpose and no reason for anything.”

Mercy is the final voice of the story. We end with her telling of events after their final encounter with each other. And she does something interesting. Her ambiguity in her final “chapter” leaves it open to interpretation whether she is or is not what Art believed her to be. Are her final words to Art, and to us, the truth or simply a fabrication to give Art what he so desperately wanted and to give us a good story? The answer, I suppose, will be for each of us to decide on our own.

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