October 15, 2010
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Paul Tremblay masterfully blends the fantastic with the literary in his wonderfully unsettling short fiction collection, In the Mean Time.
Jessica Anthony wrote of the book:
"Paul Tremblay's In The Mean Time is a dark, heart-twisting collection of short fiction which defies categorization and requires your complete attention. The children, parents, and teachers who inhabit these stories exist in the ways we all exist-through those old historical longings which are rarely answered. Tremblay offers no solutions, but in the end, somehow, we walk away with a greater understanding of ourselves. Or, at the very least, the kind of selves we are but rarely see."
This collection of fifteen stories is loosely themed: each story is very much of our now and confronts many of our cultural fears and apocalyptic anxieties. Zeitgeist for everyone!
The book title comes directly from Helmet's 1992 brilliant and menacing song "In the Meantime."
Track: "Mad World," Michael Andrews and Gary Jules (Tears for Fears cover)
The book opens with its biggest gut punch. A history teacher begins his unorthodox senior course with clips from an ominous surveillance video from a day care center, causing a student's home life to deteriorate along with the lessons. This story was a finalist for the 2007 Bram Stoker Award.
"The Two-Headed Girl"
Track: "Two-Headed Boy," Neutral Milk Hotel
The story was directly influenced by the NHH song. So yeah, there's a teen girl with two heads, and her second head changes into different historical and fictional identities. The story opens with her second head being Anne Frank. Medusa, Sylvia Plath, Joan D'Arc, and many others also make an appearance. This story appeared in Best American Fantasy 3 (Kevin Brockmeier, editor), and is still available for free reading at the very cool Fivechapters.com.
Bonus Clutch track: Within the story there's a big tip of my hat to Clutch and "Army of Bono."
"The Strange Case of Nicholas Thomas: An Excerpt from A History of The Longesian Library"
Track: "Paranoid Android," Radiohead
In the mysterious and ancient city Annotte, a librarian prepares to document the reoccurrence (happens every nineteen years) of spontaneously materializing balloons that may or may not lead to a host of tragedies. He finds an essay that may or may not have been written by his mother. And the essay, ultimately, may or may not been about him. Got it?
"Feeding the Machine"
Track: "Rid of Me," PJ Harvey
A pregnant woman struggles with trust (she's reading her partner's diary), guilt, her relationship with her partner Cassie, and with uncontrollable and destructive pica (eating non-food materials) urges.
Track: "Heads Will Roll," Yeah Yeah Yeahs
I don't just clip titles from music, but from other forms of art too. I got the title from William Carlos Williams' great poem.
In an out-of-time city, plague victims suffer gruesome physical transformations before succumbing to death, or, for a few, rebirth. A surgeon works to detail the stages of transformation while at the same time, confront the consequences of a choice he never should've made.
Track: "Green Mind," Dinosaur Jr.
This story shares a title with an amazing, subtle, and creepy story written by TED Klein.
Two sisters are left alone as their widower father leaves the safety of their mountain cabin to forage for supplies. The older sister, who's health is deteriorating, tells elaborate stories of how the world is ending because of the voracious and unending growth of a new kind of plant. The younger sister thinks they're just stories until she finds and tends to the growing things in their basement.
"Harold the Spider Man"
Track: "Boris the Spider," The Who
Quick little story about a man who lets all types of spiders live in his house because he's afraid of everything else. Or is he?
"Rhymes with Jew"
Track: "Politicians in My Eyes," Death
In a United States separated into two countries, an old Jewish woman recounts her social work experience to two young men who have come looking for help. They want to escape the Red States.
Bonus Clutch track: "Escape from the Prison Planet"
"The Marlborough Man Meets the End"
Track: "Burning Down the Billboards," Cave In
This apocalyptic flash fiction piece was clearly and directly influenced by the song. So much so, if you listen to it, you pretty much get the gist of the story.
"The Blog at the End of the World"
Track: "The End of Radio," Shellac
A blogger documents society's slow, unexplained but inexorable end. Or—as is maintained by some of the comments left on her blog—is the blog only a collection of pixel-sized paranoia?
This story won the 2008 Chizine Short Story Contest and it when it was originally published, it was designed/formatted to look like, well, a real blog!
"The People Who Live Near Me"
Track: "God Hates a Coward," Tomahawk
Welcome to the neighborhood. Though it's really more like a cul-de-sac. You'll meet the Booths who dry their clothes on hangers left on windowsills; the Flynn's who collect sheds and swing sets; the local gadfly Nick-Nick who only wants your peanut M&Ms, and poor George, who spends his afternoon picking apart chunks of the road.
Track: "Empty Elevator Shaft," Silkworm
Another story directly influenced by a song, and in particular, the following lyric: "Down an empty elevator shaft/ no light between floors".
This is a dream-like story of a man trapped in the rubble of a building he thinks may extend to another world, a world with angry Old Gods. This story was also a finalist for the 2007 Bram Stoker Award.
"Headstones in Your Pocket"
Track: "People of the Sun," Rage Against the Machine
Joe Marquez is a Border Patrol officer, working a temporary checkpoint thirty miles north of Nogales. His past and present are thrown into chaos when he accidentally keeps a small, tinfoil wrapped bundle confiscated from a recent detainee: a child's tooth.
"It's Against the Law to Feed the Ducks"
Track: "The Fragile," Nine Inch Nails
Five-year-old Danny and his parents go for a week long vacation on Lake Winnipesauke. On the second day of their vacation, something happens but Danny doesn't know what it is. His parents won't talk about it, or let him watch what they're watching on TV. People leave the beach, seemingly, to Danny, just disappearing, and his parents, they begin to act differently too.
"We Will Never Live in the Castle"
Track: "Big Takeover," Bad Brains
This story is a nod to one of my favorite novels, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.
A once-awkward teen holes up in Fairy Tale Land after the end of the world. A mysterious girl has moved into the Polar Coaster (the ride next door). At her urging, he schemes to take Cinderella's Castle by force.
Paul Tremblay and In the Mean Time links:
Coffee with a Canine interview with the author
Hellnotes interview with the author
If You're Just Joining Us interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for his novel The Little Sleep
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for his novel No Sleep till Wonderland
Torontoist interview with the author
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists