Review: Strange Weather

Strange Weather, Joe Hill's follow-up to his horror epics The Fireman and NOS4A2, is a collection of four wildly different novellas that celebrate the breadth of Hill's twisted imagination. Each brief novel can be read in a sitting or two, and their compact size often serves to magnify the mystery and apprehension that fuel great horror fiction. The stories are long enough, however, to allow for Hill's expert characterization--carefully establishing sympathetic characters grounds the strange, nightmarish scenarios and insures the readers' investment in the torments that await each character.

The first short novel is "Snapshot," set in 1988. It is a surprisingly sweet and personal-seeming story of a lonely boy, Michael Figlione, who looks out for his former babysitter, an older woman struggling with something like dementia. She claims that a man has been snapping Polaroids of her when her husband isn't watching and warns Michael: "Don't let him take a picture of you. Don't let him start taking things away." Naturally, Michael soon encounters "the Polaroid Man" and learns the disturbing truth behind the dozen or so photo albums stacked in the backseat of his Cadillac.

"Loaded" is a more realistic and politically charged story ruminating on America's gun culture, racial inequities in policing and mass shootings. It is a violent, bloody polemic aimed at the controversial idea that only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun. Hill makes his position very clear while still crafting a chilling look at how ignorance and rage can lead someone down a dark path, culminating in a few truly harrowing set pieces.

"Aloft" skews more Twilight Zone than the others, offering a fantastical story about a reluctant skydiver stranded on a bizarre cloud. The cloud--or whatever it is--possesses a strange intelligence that the protagonist must puzzle out while sorting through his unrequited feelings for a friend. The less said about the premise, the better--unspooling the mystery is half the fun. Finally, "Rain" is in some ways similar to The Fireman, striking an apocalyptic chord with its story of a devastating, nail-like rain that shreds anyone and anything unlucky enough to be outside when the storm breaks over Boulder. This story of heartbreak and survival might be familiar to fans of Hill's work, covering some of his favorite themes while indulging in his gift for ghoulish imagery: "She lifted her hands, a woman surrendering to an advancing army, and I saw that her palms and forearms were stuck with hundreds of needles, so she looked like a pale pink cactus."

Hill never shirks from delivering the gory goods for genre fans, but his horror is far from cynical. Instead, Hill finds striking, unusual ways to dramatize fears of aging and illness, guns, loneliness and grief. His intentions and limitless creativity are extremely well suited to short fiction, and one hopes that another collection is forthcoming. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Shelf Talker: Strange Weather is a collection of four short novels showing off Hill's impressive range as a horror storyteller.

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