A young boy feeds his infant sister scabs, a rusted can belches spiders and phantom monsters, and a train conductor runs down a harlequin clown with gruesome results. Do not let the title mislead. Paul G. Tremblay’s Compositions for the Young and Old is not feel-good, sugarcoated, family-oriented fun that grandparents will want to read to their grandchildren. It is nothing short of gut-churning, visceral horror that leaves the reader disturbed and unsettled, looking at his surroundings with a different eye.
This collection of short stories uses characters of every age bracket – and their points of view – to hit the reader hard in their deepest fears. From abandonment to Alzheimer’s, Tremblay finds a way to connect the story with the reader, and from there he picks at every wound until it is exposed. He alternates between gritty noir to eloquent prose, providing tales tailor-made to any audience.
To choose a “best” list from this 21-story collection is a daunting task, as each of them stand on their own merit. Particularly disturbing are “Perfect,” in which a boy longs for the simpler days when he didn’t have a baby sister; “The Pond,” a graphic depiction of going through the ice on a frozen pond; “Cold,” a cannibalistic nightmare where horror is served with sticky sweetness; and “Hackin’ at the Peach,” which involves the gruesome tonsillectomy of baseball great Ty Cobb. Others from the collection that leave a lasting impact are “The Harlequin and the Train,” “Dole as Ribbit,” “The Jar,” and “4’33.”
Compositions for the Young and Old is stylishly written, so much so that it lulls the reader into a false sense of security. Just when he thinks the story will end on a tame high-note, Tremblay leaps from behind the curtain. These are stories that one is not likely to forget. Likewise, it is with gleeful abandon that Tremblay takes the reader on this journey through human aging and terror. An absolutely enjoyable read.
Compositions for the Young and Old
By Paul G. Tremblay
House of Dominion Press, 2004
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