Strange Weather, the latest offering from Joe Hill, is four books in one! Collected here are four novellas, united by the theme of weather (sometimes strongly, other times more subtly), with the stories running the gamut of apocalyptic rain to raging wildfires.
Hill hits the ground running with Snapshot, an eerie little coming-of-age tale revolving around a supernatural Polaroid camera. I was worried at first that this would be Hill riffing again on his father, Stephen King, who wrote his own supernatural camera story way back when with The Sun Dog, but Hill gets off a good one here and does his own thing. The result is pretty fantastic, with some solid meditations on aging and the fear of our own personal futures. There's a great deal of emotional resonance to this one, and Hill pulled pretty hard on my heartstrings. Not quite a tear-jerker, but it got pretty dang close.
Loaded is unapologetically political, and frankly I don't think it would work any other way. This story tackles America's favorite obsession, our one true golden idol - guns, guns, guns! Sensitive readers who decry having politics in their fiction will be clutching their pearls in white-knuckled fists hard enough to make diamonds when they lay their eyes on this one! This here story is a ripped from the headlines of Everywhere, USA horror revolving around racism and gun violence. I have no problem with political stories, and I agree with the majority of what Hill has to say here. What bugged me, though, is that it took a really, really, really long time for this novella to start going places. At first it felt more like a series of short stories united by a common element, as Hill introduces a number of characters over the course of several chapters (one who disappears for a good long while) before showing us how it all comes together. I was a bit frustrated, initially, but once the various threads started coming together, I found this to be a pretty decent work overall, and I now find myself wanting to see Hill play around a bit more in the crime genre.
Aloft has some cool character development and relationships, and although the situation Aubrey finds himself in during a parachute jump gone awry is certainly interesting, I just wasn't able to suspend my disbelief deeply enough for this one to gel with me. Even at novella length, it seemed to carry on longer than needed, or at least longer than my interest could stay vested, and I found myself itching to get off this ride way too soon.
By the time I was about half-way through Aloft, I was ready to chalk up this book as a loss. What had started out strong was quickly devolving, and I'd gone from a really strong opening, to an OK crime story, to finally just wanting to be done with this thing. And then I hit upon Rain, the final story in this sequence, and holy crap.
Hill admits to spoofing himself and his doorstopper of a book, The Fireman, with Rain, and while I enjoyed the former title quite a lot, this one is better. It's shorter, leaner, and our central character goes places. It's nicely apocalyptic and strange, and Hill gets in a few solid pot-shots at Donald Trump (which are both highly appreciated and slightly amusing, but also too f'ing accurate...). So yeah, I dug the heck out of this one.
Although the middle portion of the book fatigued me, Strange Weather is ultimately redeemed by its strong opening and an even better finish. If either Snapshot or Rain had been released as solo stories, each would have been an easy five star for me. Taken a whole, though, this is a pretty solid three-star collection for me and I'll be happily adding my signed pre-order to the shelves alongside Hill's other works once it arrives in October.
[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the publisher via Edelweiss.]
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