Book: “Strange Weather” by Joe Hill
Publishing Info: William Morrow, October 2017
Where Did I Get This Book: An ARC from the publisher at ALA.
Book Description: A collection of four chilling novels, ingeniously wrought gems of terror from the brilliantly imaginative, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Fireman, Joe Hill
“Snapshot” is the disturbing story of a Silicon Valley adolescent who finds himself threatened by “The Phoenician,” a tattooed thug who possesses a Polaroid Instant Camera that erases memories, snap by snap.
A young man takes to the skies to experience his first parachute jump. . . and winds up a castaway on an impossibly solid cloud, a Prospero’s island of roiling vapor that seems animated by a mind of its own in “Aloft.”
On a seemingly ordinary day in Boulder, Colorado, the clouds open up in a downpour of nails—splinters of bright crystal that shred the skin of anyone not safely under cover. “Rain” explores this escalating apocalyptic event, as the deluge of nails spreads out across the country and around the world.
In “Loaded,” a mall security guard in a coastal Florida town courageously stops a mass shooting and becomes a hero to the modern gun rights movement. But under the glare of the spotlights, his story begins to unravel, taking his sanity with it. When an out-of-control summer blaze approaches the town, he will reach for the gun again and embark on one last day of reckoning.
Review: While we were at ALA, Serena and I were making our way through the throngs of eager librarians at the publisher tables. After all, the vendor’s hall had just opened up, and that meant free books. At one point Serena grabbed my arm and pointed to a stack of books. I immediately saw that they were ARCs of the new novellas collection by Joe Hill, entitled “Strange Weather”. Given that you all know my deep deep love for Joe Hill, it should come as no surprise that I basically went like
I saved it and saved it and SAVED IT for Horrorpalooza, and I can say that it was basically worth the wait. I’m going to talk about all four novellas, split up into four sections. I’ll try to keep it concise, but this may be a ramble, y’all.
“Snapshot”: Okay, so I’ll be honest. I read “Strange Weather” for Horrorpalooza, but I would say that this story was the only one in the set that was a mostly ‘conventional’ horror story. More on the others later. What I liked about “Snapshot” was that it had the nostalgia feel down pat, with our protagonist being a teenage boy named Michael who is fairly normal, if not a little awkward. His neighbor and family friend Shelly Beukes has been succumbing more and more to memory loss and dementia, and Michael keeps an eye on her for her aging husband Larry. She keeps talking about a “Polaroid Man” who is stalking her, but it’s chalked up to her failing memory. Of course, Michael then meets this “Polaroid Man” and his camera that steals memories from people. From the description of this guy to the very concept of someone stalking you to steal your memories, I was sufficiently spooked by this first novel. I thought that Michael also had a very realistic voice, and it just proves that Hill, like his father Stephen King, really knows how to write a book from the perspective of kids and pull it off. There was also a lingering sense of pathos about this story, as it didn’t end after a battle of good and evil, like so many horror stories do. I had to wipe tears away from my eyes as Hill ruminated and explored the ideas of losing oneself to time and old age, and how it affects those who love you. Man does this man know how to make me cry.
“Loaded”: This was probably the ballsiest, and most maddening, book in the collection. Hill doesn’t shy away from his personal politics and opinions in his public persona, and he has a lot to say about gun violence in this country. “Loaded” takes the themes of gun violence, racism, privilege, and, dare I say, the Alt-Right (before it became so prevalent), and turns it into this sucker punch of a story. Basically, a white mall cop with a history of racism and violence is said to have stopped a mass shooting at a mall, in which five people were killed, including the suspect. He becomes a hero to the community. But then his story starts to fall apart as a reporter with her own painful memories involving racist cops and police brutality starts to dig into his ‘heroic act’. This one built up nice and slow, piecing things together bit by bit until I was on the edge of my seat. This was also the story in the collection that made me yell out in anger at the end, and have to walk around my house a bit before I could continue onto the next one. Hill brings up a lot of hot button by ever relevant issues in how we view authority, how we downplay racism in our culture, and how deadly situations that can totally be prevented instead explode because of our obsession with guns and the inability (or refusal) to confront our racist culture and disdain for gun control. DAMN this one pulsated with indictments and anger, and while it was bleak as HELL, I like that he took it on, even if there were a couple of tropes used that feel a bit outdated and not so culturally sensitive (like, why did the father of Aisha’s daughter have to have run off on her?). Overall, this one lights up the page with frustration and misery. Be ready.
“Aloft”: This story might have been my favorite in the book, actually, which I wasn’t expecting because it was the one that was the LEAST horror-oriented. A guy named Aubrey is skydiving with the girl he pines after, as part of a promise they made to a mutual friend who has now passed on. But he manages to land on a solid, cloud-like…. thing. It tries to provide him with everything he needs, as if it has a mind of it’s own and wants him to stay, and Aubrey is tempted to take it up on it’s hospitality. What I liked about this one was that it just kind of felt a little whimsical, as well as bittersweet. We learn about Aubrey and his relationships with his crush, Harriet, and their now deceased bandmate June. You slowly see his strengths and weaknesses, and how his inability to take various plunges in life now applies to not taking ‘the plunge’ off this weird ‘cloud’ that so entices him to stay. I just loved the mechanics and the world building of this ‘cloud’. We don’t really know what it is, we don’t really know how it works, but I was so tickled by the various things that it could do. It’s just such an original concept, even if it wasn’t particularly ‘scary’. It reminded me of some of the more whimsy-based stories in “20th Century Ghosts” that didn’t scare, but entertained through sheer creativity.
“Rain”: Hill is no stranger to the Apocalypse story. You remember how much I LOVED “The Fireman”, so when I realized that “Rain” was an end of the world story but with NAIL RAIN, I was pretty pumped. Our protagonist this time is Honeysuckle, a woman who lives in Boulder and is excited that her girlfriend is finally moving in with her. Unfortunately, the day that Yolanda is going to move in, a storm cloud comes through, and instead of water, the sky rains sharp crystals that look like nails. They shred every living thing below, causing death, damage, and panic. In the acknowledgments Hill said that he was kind of having a bit of fun with the fact he’d already written such an epic end of the world story, but “Rain” isn’t exactly light hearted. It is very despondent, as Honeysuckle travels on foot to Denver to try and find Yolanda’s father, having to deal less with rain than the human wreckage and evils along the way. From a strange cult to homophobic misogynists, Honeysuckle has a long road ahead of her. This one made me cry deeply at one point, because, fair warning for a spoiler here, a person that Honeysuckle comes upon is completely broken over the fact his cat Roswell has been impaled by these crystals. Roswell is still alive, but in agony, and Honeysuckle decides to put the poor animal out of it’s misery. And it was here that all my tears for other things in this collection decided that enough was enough.
But even though Hill said in the acknowledgments that the Trump election made him make this story far less hopeful that he originally intended, he doesn’t leave it totally hopeless. I appreciate that even in darkest times in his writing, he will usually give us the strength to keep on hoping. Unless it’s “Loaded”. GOD that was a rough one.
All in all, I thought that “Strange Weather” was a very strong collection of stories. Joe Hill continues to amaze me and move me, and if you haven’t already, please do seek him out. This might be a good collection to start with, as it balances so many of the genres that he excels in.
Rating 8: A solid and enjoyable collection of four novellas that made me laugh, cry, shudder, and have to walk around my house in a rage. So you know, everything I want Joe Hill to do.
“Strange Weather” is not on any Goodreads lists yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Best Weird Fiction” books (for “Aloft” and “Rain”), “Not the Normal Paranormal” (for “Snapshot”), and “Masters of Misery” (for “Loaded”).
Find “Strange Weather” at your library using WorldCat!