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In The Mean Time Paperback – Jun 22 2012


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: ChiZine (June 22 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1926851064
  • ISBN-13: 978-1926851068
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 14 x 21 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 227 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,040,510 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Richard Thomas on Feb. 1 2011
Format: Paperback
This review was originally published at The Nervous Breakdown DOT com:

When you enter the world of Paul Tremblay most anything can happen, and usually does. His recent collection, In The Mean Time (ChiZine Publications) defies expectations, the cover art a soft purple hue all filled with glittery type. It shows the faces of two sweet girls, which at first glance (pay attention, readers, the show starts here) could be two sisters sitting very close together, twins maybe. But no, it's a two-headed girl, the first of many things that are not what then seem to be, the first of many times where Tremblay takes you by the hand and whispers sweet nothings in your ear, all the while the world falling apart around you, infrastructures crumbling, supplies running out, strange diseases wiping out the populace. But beyond all of that is the emotion, the humanity of what it must be like to exist in such end days, and it is here that he ratchets up the stories to more than just post-apocalyptic terror, dwelling in the individuals and families that are struggling to survive, to connect, to have a normal conversation, a memory that doesn't send it all fracturing into shards of a former existence. It's here between the floors where there's no light, and yet, a sprinkling of hope.

The first story in this collection pulls no punches, and certainly Tremblay started off with this unnerving tale for this reason. One of my favorite stories of the collection, 'The Teacher' takes a normal group of high school overachievers, and turns their AP History class upside down (What's the saying? Those who ignore history are bound to repeat it?), showing them that the world out there isn't all puppies and Facebook and Algebra.
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Amazon.com: 3 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Sometimes the apocalypse ends with a whimper, not a bang. Feb. 1 2011
By Richard Thomas - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Review originally published at The Nervous Breakdown DOT com.

When you enter the world of Paul Tremblay most anything can happen, and usually does. His recent collection, In The Mean Time (ChiZine Publications) defies expectations, the cover art a soft purple hue all filled with glittery type. It shows the faces of two sweet girls, which at first glance (pay attention, readers, the show starts here) could be two sisters sitting very close together, twins maybe. But no, it's a two-headed girl, the first of many things that are not what then seem to be, the first of many times where Tremblay takes you by the hand and whispers sweet nothings in your ear, all the while the world falling apart around you, infrastructures crumbling, supplies running out, strange diseases wiping out the populace. But beyond all of that is the emotion, the humanity of what it must be like to exist in such end days, and it is here that he ratchets up the stories to more than just post-apocalyptic terror, dwelling in the individuals and families that are struggling to survive, to connect, to have a normal conversation, a memory that doesn't send it all fracturing into shards of a former existence. It's here between the floors where there's no light, and yet, a sprinkling of hope.

The first story in this collection pulls no punches, and certainly Tremblay started off with this unnerving tale for this reason. One of my favorite stories of the collection, "The Teacher" takes a normal group of high school overachievers, and turns their AP History class upside down (What's the saying? Those who ignore history are bound to repeat it?), showing them that the world out there isn't all puppies and Facebook and Algebra. Sometimes in the most banal of settings life is horrific, and the responsibility of it all starts with the individual:

"We loved him before we walked into the room. We loved him when we saw his name on our schedules. Mr. Sorent says, `All right, this is going to be a special class.' We love him because of the music and movie posters on his walls, the black stud earring in his left ear, his shoulder-length hair. We love him because of those black horn-rimmed glasses; the same glasses we see people wearing on TV and in movies. We love him because he looks like us."

The key to this passage is in the final sentence, "We love him because he looks like us." But no, he is not like them, he has witnessed atrocities, and they have shaped him. The students have no idea what is coming next, they have not experienced life, felt the pain or seen the horror that he has, that most adults have, out in the "real world".

So, he shows it to them. He shows them car accidents and war and autopsies, but the very first video is the one that sticks with them, destroys them, so they can be rebuilt (most of them, anyway), pausing the tape, advancing the video a single frame per day, slowly revealing the inevitable:

"The teacher is a young woman. She wears white, unflattering khakis and a collared shirt with the school's logo above the breast. Her hair is tied up tight behind her head, a fistful of piano wire. She breaks up the fight on the chairs, and then another child runs into her leg and falls to the ground. She picks up the squirming child, grabbing one arm and leg. She spins, giving a brief airplane ride, but then she lets go. Mr. Sorent pauses the video, and we know the teacher did not simply let go.

Mr. Sorent doesn't say anything until we're all looking at him. He says, `I don't want to say too much about this.' He edges the video ahead by one frame. The airborne child is a boy with straight blond hair. We can't see his face, and he's horizontal, trapped in the black-and-white ether three feet above the carpeted floor. `Your individual reactions will be your guide, your teacher.' The video goes ahead another frame. The boy's classmates haven't had time to react. The teacher still has her arms extended out. If someone were to walk in now and see this, I imagine they'd want to believe she was readying to catch the child. Not the opposite, not what really happened. Mr. Sorent moves the video ahead another frame and a wall comes into view, stage right. Class ends, and none of us will go see Mr. Sorent after school."

Every day, this class has to digest this information, left to come to their own conclusions. It is a horrible thing to watch, the way that they deal with this new information, the way that they now hate their teacher for bursting their bubble, for making them pay attention. And yet, there is a sense of epiphany, of something changing, hopefully for the better. There is something that cannot be forgotten in this lesson, this history, something that hopefully won't be repeated.

There are several tales of the apocalypse in this collection, and each story deals with it in a different way. For some, it is "The Blog at the End of the World," complete with a forum of responses, riddled with typos, trolls and bigotry, but accurate nonetheless. For others, in "We Will Never Live in the Castle" it is about youth, and second chances, and territory. But the most powerful tale, in my opinion, is the quietly devastating "It's Against the Law to Feed the Ducks".

A small family heads off to the woods to go camping. A father and mother watch over their son Danny, and their infant Beth. It's just like any other family vacation, any other story where you pile in the old station wagon, or SUV, and head off into nature to bond with the elements, finding a sanctity and peace that is often missed in the monotonous daily grind.

A chorus that repeats throughout this story, Danny's constant request to pretend, it deals with illusion and hope, shifting over time from sweetness to devastation:

"Dotted lines and bleached pavement give way to a dirt path that roughly invades the woods. Danny watches his infant sister Beth sleep, all tucked into herself and looking like a new punctuation mark. Danny strains against his twisted shoulder harness. He needs to go pee but he holds it, remembering how Daddy didn't say any mad words but sighed and breathed all heavy the last time he asked to stop for a pee break.

Danny says, `Mommy, pretend you didn't know I was going to be five in September.'

Ellen holds a finger to her chin and looks at the car's ceiling for answers. `Are you going to be ten years old tomorrow?'

`No. I will be five in September.'

`Oh, wow. I didn't know that, honey.'"

Pretend that you're older. Pretend we still have rules. Pretend that the truth has been revealed. Pretend it's a beautiful day. Pretend we're in a spaceship. None of it matters, and yet, all of it matters.

Over time, we see the world around them change. There is one evening around the television set where the parents go quiet, sending Danny to the other room, his mother staring at the screen, hand over her mouth, quiet. The beaches become empty, that much more room for them to go and play, the children still unaware of what has happened. Danny's father gets supplies, negotiating with the girl at the grocery story, unsure if credit cards still work, allowing themselves a moment of laughter as they ride across the parking lot on a shopping cart, wind in their hair, the deserted pavement a constant reminder.

As we reach the end of the story, the parents still carrying the weight of their knowledge, their secret, we are back at the beach, looking to feed the ducks:

"The ducks waddle over. They don't know the law. Tom pulls out a bag of Cheerios, Beth's snack, and tosses a few on the sand. The ducks converge and are greedy.

Ellen pushes the stroller deeper into the shade away from the ducks and says, `Are you sure we can spare those, Mr. Keeper-of-the-Supplies?' It walks like a joke and talks like a joke but it isn't a joke.

Danny says, `Daddy! Don't you remember the sign? It's against the law to feed the ducks.' Danny looks around, making sure the people who aren't there still aren't there.

`It's okay now, buddy. I don't think anyone will care anymore. Here, kiddo.'

He takes the Cheerio bag from Daddy. Daddy pats his head. Danny digs a hand deep into the bag, pulls it out, and throws Cheerios onto the sand. The ducks flinch and scatter toward the water, but they come back and feed."

It's so touching, and so sad. The way that the parents keep their dignity, and allow their children to enjoy what is left of this world, for as long as they can. The strength it must have taken, the quiet pain they must have swallowed.

If I haven't sold you on Paul Tremblay yet, just take a quick gander at the people willing to blurb this collection, a list of extremely talented authors, many of whom deal with the same dark, layered stories: Kevin Brockmeier, Laird Barron, Brian Evenson, Stephen Graham Jones, Ann Vandermeer, and Kevin Wilson. They speak of the beauty, the emotion, and the wisdom in the same breath that they call these tales disquieting, traumatic and shocking. One word we all seem to agree on is unforgettable. Paul Tremblay has put together an original, haunting, and timeless collection, the echoes of which still reverberate between my heart and my head, unwilling to let me go.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
An adventurous and marvelously weird collection Jan. 7 2013
By M. Griffin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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.
All the elements, and they often work together Jan. 3 2014
By William Freedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Paul Tremblay is singularly talented. Adept at setting a mood, disciplined in stripping away the non-essential, insightful at creating sympathetic characters, he exudes writerly skill.

So why did I give his anthology In the Mean Time only three stars? Because there is one key element that he is uneven at: storytelling.

You can’t call this book a collection of short stories. Some of them are stories and some of them are better described as vignettes. I could imagine submitting “The People Who Live Near Me” or “There’s No Light Between Floors” to my crit group and here them whine, “That’s cool, but does anyone ever do anything?”

These works have their place, but they don’t necessarily appeal to my old-fashioned, provincial taste for plot and character arcs. But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the collection overall.

The longer works tended to appeal to me. “It’s Against the Law to Feed the Ducks” and “We Will Never Live in the Castle” were absolutely brilliant. The first two stories, “The Teacher” and “The Two-Headed Girl” drew me in to Tremblay’s darkly lit world and made me want to stay. They were followed by “The Strange Case of Nicholas Thomas” — which read like a New Weird story written just because some BFA adjunct assigned Tremblay’s class to write one — that made me think twice about reading on.

But ultimately, I’m glad I did.

And that’s despite the looks I got from people in restaurants and other public places as they saw this pink, glittery book in the hands of a man in his 40s. A closer look at the cover would have shown the main character(s) of “The Two-Headed Girl” wearing a two-collared T-shirt, and that the cover art was a sly send-up of the YA novel geared toward morose teenage girls and assigned to eighth-grade classes a decade later once these ugly ducklings come back to roost as middle-school English teachers. I never felt so self-conscious of what my book looked like to other people since I was reading Harry Turtledove’s Guns of the South, which featured a glossy rendering of Robert E. Lee in full battle regalia. (I definitely recommend reading that book, but I strongly recommend against sitting on a park bench along Washington’s Georgia Avenue while you’re doing so.) I’m such a huge fan of Erik Mohr’s art, which has graced so much of ChiZine Press’s portfolio, that I hesitate to suggest that this time he may have outsmarted himself. Even so, I can’t say enough positively about Mara Sternberg’s interior illustrations.

Ultimately, I look forward to reading more from Tremblay. I’d definitely take a look at a novel-length work from him. My sense is that, as a storyteller, he needs more room to run.

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