The gist: The story follows the life and times of Art Barbara, starting from his high school days through middle age. Written as a memoir, the book chronicles Art’s many struggles, including his decades-long sort-of toxic friendship with a goth/hipster girl named Mercy. Since the first day she joined his Pallbearers Club (a most intriguing extracurricular activity, I might add!), it’s anyone’s guess if she’s a friend or foe. But then again, that could be said about most people, eh? They just don’t wave as many red flags out in the open. But I digress. This girl is truly odd, and as the story progresses, you may start wondering if she may in fact be an evil incarnation of a 19th century vampire—dum dum duuuuuum!
What I liked: As you flip through the pages, you’ll see Mercy’s red-inked notes scattered throughout the margins. Somehow, she got ahold of this manuscript before it went to press, and she has a few things to say! This was a brilliant move on the author’s part because her side-jabs added some humor to many pages of dark, troubled ruminations. And just when you think you might have Mercy or Art Barbara figured out, the annotations will add another twist, leaving you with even more questions.
The scare factor: I’ll admit that I’m still chasing that high I got from “Head Full of Ghosts.” Even though this one wasn’t as spooky, there were some disquieting elements that gave me the willies. Do any of these bizarre events have anything to do with the supernatural? Maybe. Rationalists (like my husband) will chalk it up to paranoia. But, since I still hold true to the belief that the headless horseman spirited Ichabod Crane away on that fateful Halloween night, I’m banking on supernatural forces here. But that’s the kind of reader I am. It’s really up to the readers to choose their own adventure!
What irked me: So, I must confess. I’m not a music aficionado, so a lot of the punk rock references were lost on me. Reviewers have surmised that Art Barbara and Paul Tremblay are one and the same, and perhaps that’s true. Obviously, Mr. Trembley is a punk rock maven and grew up listening to this music. So yeah, there were many pages devoted to rock and punk and garage band stuff that didn’t really interest me. However, I did appreciate his reference to Rocket from the Crypt—and oldie but goodie from my San Diego days! Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy punk music. My eyes just glaze over when people start going on and on about the nuances of the genre and blah, blah, blah…snore.
Overall: A reviewer once said that looking for answers in a Paul Tremblay story is like trying to hold water in your hands. I couldn’t think of a better analogy to describe his style. Was this book meandering and a tad overindulgent? Perhaps. Yet, I somehow read it in one day! Seriously, y’all, I could not put this thing down because I kept searching for answers behind all of the bizarre happenings—from the levitating dresser to the animated jackets to the polaroid photos with ghostly green blobs. Did I get my answers? No, but I do have some theories.