August 6th, 2010


City Pier: Above and Below

When I first read Paul Tremblay's collection Compositions For the Young and Old back in 2004, I was pretty much blown away by the breadth of his imagination and the satisfying versatility of the writing styles on display. However, as I recall, the stories I liked the least at the time were the two "City Pier" stories that appeared in the collection, sf-noir hybrids that take place in a sprawling, far-future (or perhaps alternate universe) city held atop the ocean by a giant pier made of sequoia trunks. For whatever reason they didn't resonate with me as much as his stand-alone stories.

Then I read his novel The Little Sleep, and after naming it my favorite book of 2009, I thought it was time to reevaluate the City Pier stories, which share Sleep's noir roots if not that novel's more playful tone. To that end, I picked up a copy of Tremblay's 2007 book, City Pier: Above and Below, which collects all four previously published City Pier stories--the two I'd previously read, and two that were new to me.

I'm glad I did. Reading them all together works very well, and lends each story additional weight. One of the best things about it, actually, is being able to trace, just over the couple of years in which these stories were written, the growth of Tremblay's already immense talents as a writer. Between the first story and the last, you can almost witness the birth of the man who wrote The Little Sleep.

In the first tale, "Meat's Story," we're introduced to City in a clever way, by first visiting the Pier beneath it, where City's human detritus--the mad, the drug-addled, the criminals--dwell, in a tale of gun-runners, daddy issues and genetically altered lifeforms. Then in "Dole as Ribbit," which may be my favorite of the lot, a lapsed Catholic priest with psychometric powers works with the police to find out how a drug addict who was sentenced to live down in the Pier found his way topside into City again. "The Strange Case of Nicholas Thomas" is another great story, this one involving mysterious balloons that appear over parts of City and drive the inhabitants mad with fear and paranoia. It's a tricky tale, hinting at alternate realities that makes for an ending both chilling and way cool. (It's also the only story in the book that doesn't explicitly refer to the people or events of the other City Pier tales.) Lastly, "She Wants To Be Saved," wraps things up quite nicely, revealing the fates of the characters we've read about previously (except for Nicholas Thomas, of course) and dropping some hints about City Pier's possibly cosmic origin.

Overall, I was very satisfied with the stories--though I wanted to know more about those damn balloons!--and somewhat confused as to why they didn't work for me the first time I read them. Maybe I needed to read all four in order to fully appreciate the City Pier cycle, or maybe I just wasn't in the right mood back then.

Either way, I found revisiting Tremblay's unique world of corruption, crime and weirdness in City Pier: Above and Below well worth my time. If you like Tremblay's work, or if the idea of an sf-noir mashup makes you tingly, you might enjoy this one as well.