My currently schedule doesn’t allow me to dive into the kind of lengthy, door-stopper novels that I usually like to read around this time of year. To combat that, I’ve been reading a lot of short stories in time stolen here and there between classes or commuting.
This brings me to Joe Hill, whose book Strange Weather stood out to me on the stacks at my local bookstore. Joe Hill is also known as Joseph Hillstrom King, the son of Stephen King. He was born in the practically mythological Bangor, Maine and writes in the horror, dark fantasy and science fiction genres, as you can imagine.
Strange Weather is a collection of four short novellas. It includes illustrations by Gabriel Rodriguez, a Chilean comic book artist and architect who worked with Joe Hill on another project, Locke and Key.
The first story, Snapshot, is about a young, awkward boy who is watching the mental decline of Shelly, the elderly woman who nannied him when he was younger – only he discovers that the easy explanation, Alzheimer’s, might not be what’s actually going on. He is warned by Shelly to look out for “the Polaroid Man”. He is a “slick fucking weasel in his convertible.” And more chillingly, Shelly says, “I don’t know how much he’s taken away with his camera, but he can’t have anymore. Don’t let him take a picture of you. Don’t let him start taking things away.”
As an impressionable child, I remember hearing that in the old days Aboriginal people didn’t like their picture being taken because a piece of their soul would become trapped in the photograph. I know now that this is one of those stories that people attribute to other cultures that they know nothing about and repeat in a tone of wondrous incredulity. But the idea of it – that a piece of you is tied to your representation in a photograph – is an interesting one. Reading Snapshot was an entertaining answer to that what-if-it-was-real question.
The second story, Loaded, is disturbing, and I think that’s because Mr. Hill leaves the supernatural world behind and describes a very real, tangible horror.
In Florida, a mall security guard stops a mass shooting and is celebrated by the Chief of Police and the media. Aisha Lanterglass, a journalist who once saw a young man she considered family get gunned down by police begins investigating and slowly begins to uncover that not everything about Kellaway, the courageous, gun-wielding hero, is as it seems.
This is the kind of storytelling that makes you care deeply about the characters (well, some – others you just want to watch burn). Hill enters the psyche of a man who loves guns and power, a man who served in Iraq and was never properly cared for when he returned home, a man who bullies to get what he wants. Being so close to such a recognizable villain is chilling, but even more frightening is that this story is less a fiction and more just a retelling of a story we all know much too well.
“After Iraq, Kellaway had applied to the state police, the local police, the sheriff’s office, and the FBI and ndever so much as got an interview. State cops said he was too old; sheriff’s office wouldn’t hire him because he’d been AdSep’d; the feds told him there were suitability issues after he took their psych test; the local cops didn’t have any openings and reminded him he had nine hundred dollars in unpaid speeding tickets.”
As of this writing, there have been 307 mass shootings in the United States in 2018. The most recent took place in Thousand Oaks, California, by a former marine. Twelve people were murdered.
Hill’s ability to delve into his characters and make them leap off the page is fresh and frightening and fully realized. There are two other stories in this collection, both entertaining but they lack the punch of Loaded. Even so, I highly recommend this collection and can’t wait to read more of Joe Hill’s work.
About the Cover: designed by Bonni Leon-Berman, a graphic designer specializing in book covers.