I was delighted to find out that Joe Hill had a collection of short stories coming out; well in fact, four short novellas and that they would be released in one collection named aptly ‘Strange Weather’. I have been a fan of Joe Hill’s work ever since my wife bought me his first book ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ as a Christmas present one year – she worked at Waterstones and knew about Joe Hill long before I did, informing me he was the son of the great Stephen King. A love affair ensued and I quickly devoured the book; delighted to later find out he was releasing ‘20th Century Ghosts’ a collection of short stories. I have read the majority of his work, ‘Horns’. ‘NOS4R2’ and most recently ‘The Fireman’ so you could say I am a huge fan of his work.
‘Strange Weather’ has an interesting premise and it was something very exciting for someone who loves short stories and novellas; to have a book containing four novellas from the awesome Joe Hill. When the book arrived, I was delighted to see that there were some awesome pieces of artwork in the book which act as bookends to each story. Some very talented artists have given their time to this project and the book itself benefits from this change in style – artwork and literature in my mind are very powerful indeed.
The book opens with the fabulous story ‘Snapshot’ which for me worked at pulling the reader straight into the story, it was short, snappy, delicately executed to ensure maximum impact when it came about. The idea itself was a truly terrifying beast and I feel that although it works fabulously as a short novella; the idea seems wasted in this form. For me the ending seemed a little rushed, the confrontation that happens towards the tail end on the story seemed to move so fast that I didn’t have time to enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong the story is brilliant and I wish it was something I could have written myself; its creepy, captivating and terror filled. But I can’t help thinking that if Joe Hill had turned this into a full-blown novel it would have worked a lot better, adding depth to the characters whilst making the reader fall more under Hill’s spell as a writer.
‘Loaded’ follows and again I found this story interesting, well developed and full of power. The story follows the life of Kellaway a man down on his luck, losing a grip of his life, his love and his family. But there is one thing that Kellaway loves more than all of that, his passion for firearms. The novella sheds some light on the need for gun control and gun registration in America; with Hill possibly and subtly hinting at the need for more rigorous checks regarding gun ownership with those suffering from mental health issues. The novella is well paced and has elements of King’s greatness within the prose and storytelling.
‘”Holy Shit, dude,” came a voice from his right.
He looked and saw the fat kid who resembled Jonah Hill. He had walked right up to stand behind Kellaway, had wandered in , still clutching his breakfast burrito. He looked at the bodies heaped in the office, then at the dead woman and her dead baby.
“D’joo shoot her for?” the fat kid asked. “She was just hiding, man.”
“I asked you who was in the store. You said Muslim female shooter.”
“No I didn’t!” the fat kid said. “You asked who was in here. I said a Muslim, female shooter, and the owner. Holy shit. I thought you ‘d go in and save her, not blow her the fuck away like a fucking madman!”
“I didn’t blow her away,” Kellaway said in a dull, leaden voice. “The crazy bitch in the office killed this one. Understand? It wasn’t me. It was her. Tell me you understand.”’
The story is a thrill ride, continuing to develop like a snowball rolling down a snow-covered mountain; when it reaches the bottom or in our case the crescendo of the story the snowball is the size of a fricking house. It’s a piece of great storytelling in the novella form as it starts and doesn’t let up until it gets to where it needs to go. Although I found it a great read many people have said, “OK we know guns are bad, does he have to bleat on about it?” I think personally we do need to talk about it; hopefully this story will get people talking, get conversations going and in some shape or form things may change – but that’s a big ask considering the passion and hard-on Americans have for gun ownership.
‘Aloft’ the third novella in this collection was such a difficult read, it felt too laboured and disconnected from the first two stories, the writing style changed to something that didn’t really resemble a Joe Hill book. The story centered on a man called Aubrey who when skydiving lands on a solid cloud and we journey with him as the cloud begins to form the things he imagines. I was half expecting him to stumble upon the Care Bears bouncing along as was the fractured nature of Hill’s writing in this particular novella. I struggled to read ‘Aloft’ it sat on my bedside table for quite some time as I didn’t want to return to the tedious story Hill had created, it felt a mismatch of ideas thrown together but had no adhesive components.
The final story ‘Rain’ brings us back to familiar territory and what I would expect from Hill; it’s balls out crazy with a huge slice of terror and despair in equal measure. ‘Rain’ centers on a small town and a bunch of misfits as they discover that the weather has turned bad and when it rains; it rains shards, needles of crystal; that end up impaling those that are caught out in the downpour even little cats. A road trip ensues and a quest to find family, which turns into a murder mystery…I kid you not it’s got so many plots you could mistake it for an octopus.
‘short novels are all killer, no filler.’
There were some great positives in here from some stand out stories (Snapshot & Loaded) to typical Joe Hill crazy. If you read Joe Hill’s afterword you will get a glimpse into why I thought some of the stories may seem a tad disjointed. He wrote the four novellas whilst on the road in longhand over the course of four years. The book as a whole is far from a perfect storm.
So would I recommend ‘Strange Weather’? As someone famously said ‘three out of four ain’t bad’ so grab yourselves a copy!
Joe Hill is a recipient of the Ray Bradbury Fellowship and the winner of the A.E. Coppard Long Fiction Prize, William Crawford, World Fantasy, British Fantasy, Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild Awards. His short fiction has appeared in literary, mystery and horror collections and magazines in Britain and America. THE FIREMAN is his latest novel.
Strange Weather was published by Gollancz
Strange Weather is available to purchase from Waterstones here…
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
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