Review: Strange Weather

5 stars
Powerful tales that don't hold back

After the somewhat underwhelming Heart-Shaped Box (review), I wasn’t sure what to expect of Joe Hill’s Strange Weather. It’s a collection of four novellas published in 2017, coming in at 432 pages total (paperback). It’s fair to call it a set of horror stories, but each one is very different:

  • Snapshot is a classic “haunted artifact” story that could easily have been written by Joe Hill’s father, Stephen King. The artifact in question is an instant camera which not only preserves memories, it also takes them away.

    The protagonist, an overweight and very clever kid, has a close encounter with the device’s owner. Just when you think the story is pretty much over, it goes to some very interesting places. 5/5.

  • Loaded is about the intersecting stories of several people whose lives are impacted, and in some cases erased, by guns.

    It’s the longest of the four pieces, but it moves at such a rapid clip that you’re unlikely to notice. This is a gut-wrenching, punishing, very American tale. 5/5.

  • Aloft is the story of Aubrey Griffin, a neurotic musician who is reluctantly participating in a skydiving trip to honor a deceased loved one. But instead of safe and sound on planet Earth, Aubrey finds himself in a strange place that seems to never want to let him go.

    It’s an imaginative, not especially scary adventure that offers some reprieve between the two violent tales that precede and follow it. It invests us in its colorful characters, but that investment never quite pays off. Aloft might have worked better as a full-length novel. 3.5/5.

  • Rain is a return to blood-splattering horror, in this case inflicted by the weather itself, in a scenario reminiscent of Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. Our protagonist, a young lesbian woman with the unlikely name Honeysuckle Speck, barely escapes the first wave of carnage.

    As she makes her way through a Colorado hellscape on a personal quest, she faces a wannabe vampire, members of a religious cult, a mad Russian, an MMA fighter, a bigoted neighbor, and other witnesses to the apocalypse. Meanwhile, Donald Trump is president, and he provides the deranged all-caps tweets you would expect from him.

    It’s horror, but it’s also tongue-in-cheek, and it works on both levels. 5/5.

For three of the four stories, I felt that the length was just about perfect, showing a remarkable mastery of the novella form. Hill also uses his talent for creating memorable characters, which was already evident in Heart-Shaped Box, to its fullest.

I recommend Strange Weather without reservations, but know what you’re signing up for. Loaded is the centerpiece novella, and it’s a brutal story about a very real subject (gun violence). This not a book you’ll want to pick up unless you’re in the right headspace for it.