How cult band Hüsker Dü inspired Paul Tremblay's rocking new horror novel The Pallbearers Club
When not writing acclaimed horror novels like 2018's The Cabin at the End of the World and 2020's Survivor Song, author Paul Tremblay works as a high school maths teacher. That dedication to the scholastic cause was handsomely repaid in the fall of 2019 when a student announced their intention to assist with services at a local funeral home.
"I was sitting there in school assembly and a kid went went to the podium and said, 'Hey, I'm starting this club called The Pallbearers Club,'" says Tremblay. "I was half-asleep at the time, because it was Monday morning, but instantly sat up and was like, oh, that's a really sweet thing to do, like a nice community service, but the horror writer in me went, oh, I've got to use this. I had to find a way to use that title."
The result of that thought is Tremblay's new novel which is titled, yes, The Pallbearers Club (out July 5). The book concerns an awkward, lonely teenager whose decision to establish the titular organization inspires a lot of unintended consequences, both good and terrifying.
"The book is presented as a found memoir of a character who calls himself Art Barbara," says Tremblay. "When Art was in high school in the late '80s, he was very much a loner, he didn't have many friends. Desperate to go to college out of his town, he needs an extracurricular activity, so he starts what's called The Pallbearers Club, where he and other members will volunteer at a local funeral home to serve [at the funerals of] the elderly and homeless that don't have very many or any living relatives. A strange woman, Mercy, joins the club. Then it's really Art and Mercy's friendship or frenemy-ship, however you want to call it, [that] is really detailed through the next few decades." The twist: Art comes to believe that Mercy might be a supernatural being. "Yeah, she may or may not be a figure from an odd nook of New England historical folklore," says Tremblay.
The tale is related in the form of an autobiographical transcript by Art with handwritten responses and notes from Mercy.
"Almost right away I was like, oh, I'm going to write this as a found memoir of someone I could have been, essentially," says Tremblay. "Art Barbara is very much a stand-in for an alternative universe me. I said, okay, it's a found memoir, [but] who found it? Once I stumbled upon the Art and Mercy friendship a [I realized] oh, Mercy has to get her say with Art speculating these outlandish things that involve the supernatural. I thought it only fair that at the end of every chapter Mercy writes a handwritten response, but she also can't help herself, and as she goes through the book she writes notes in the margins. To me, that's a vital component of the story. Yeah, Mercy gets to call Art on his bull---."
One thing we know for sure early on about Mercy? She is a fan of influential '80s indie-rockers Hüsker Dü and swiftly turns Art on to the Bob Mould-led band. Indeed, while The Pallbearers Club is a horror novel it is also a love letter to the group with each chapter named after a song by the trio.
"My first love really was music," says Tremblay. "It kept me going through high school. I spent so many of my days going home and lying underneath giant tented wooden speakers. I always imagined being some sort of guitar hero. I taught myself guitar. I had a friend Walter, who is a really good drummer, and we recorded some stuff on four track tapes, but I never had an officially band. I guess that was a step too far for me! The book has its story, and hopefully it's exciting and funny, but it's about my love for music, and how that changed me and made me want to create. I unfortunately figured out that I was a better writer than a musician."
Tremblay explains that, while Mould is aware of the book's existence, the writer doesn't know if he has read it.
"I wrote to him and his agent to get permission to quote from a song lyric at the beginning of the book, which Bob kindly allowed us to use," he says. "I have no idea if he 's read it or not. I'm sure he gets tons of requests of his time. But I hope if he does read it, he gets a kick out of it."
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