One of the great things about works of art, whether they be movies, books, or finger-painted sketches of yetis in space, is that they’re open to the interpretation of those who read, watch, and — for all intents and purposes — breathe their own unique experiences into the work itself. I love the fact that someone can hate what I enjoy, or can love what I find cringe-worthy. All this to say I’ve seen several reviews of Joe Hill’s latest work, breaking down which stories worked (for them) and which didn’t, and while I’ll add to what’s been shared I also recommend taking any review as just that — someone’s personal reaction to a particular work or story. What I didn’t enjoy in this collection just might resonate with you; doesn’t mean I’m right and you’re wrong, instead it shows the power of the very nature of stories and the intense emotions they can illicit.
So that it’s on the table, I’m in the camp of those who love Hill’s earlier works (20th Century Ghosts, Heart Shaped Box, Nos4atu) but didn’t enjoy his latest doorstopper, The Fireman. The guy is clearly talented, (wonder where that comes from?), but I find he can be a little hit or miss for my tastes at least. This collection was a bit of both, hit and miss, though again many reviewers I respect absolutely adored the stories I couldn’t care less for. To each their own. Here are my thoughts, for what their worth, on the four novellas within this collection:
“Snapshot” — 4 of 5 stars. This was an entertaining idea that’s perfectly suited for a novella length story, exploring dementia and alzheimer’s in the cloak of a horror story. I connected with the protagonist and loved the arc of the story. Simple yet creative, it was also a lot of fun and a great start to the collection.
“Loaded” — 5 of 5 stars. I was worried about this one as I don’t like to be preached to when reading entertainment. Don’t get me wrong, I like stories that push boundaries and explore even politically charged themes, just don’t stand on a soapbox while you’re doing it. This story had the potential to do just that yet Hill navigated the landmines with an expertise rarely seen within today’s novelists. With interwoven stories exploring the left, right, and in-between stance on gun control, I was honestly shocked at how adeptly every experience with a gun was captured within a single tale. Add to it an ending that was the equivalent of a mic drop and I’m not sure how this could have been crafted any better. Brilliantly executed.
“Aloft” — 3 of 5 stars. After a great first half I was really geared up going into this story, which was touted as one of the more creative within the collection. Unfortunately the creativity here never grew legs or landed, and I found myself a little bored moving through this one. Interesting idea but I feel it would have been better suited as a short story of a few thousand words rather than the length of a novella.
“Rain” — Sigh. All I can say is that I’m glad this one was last or I wouldn’t have given the others a chance. Hill claims, in his Afterward, that this was his rendition of parodying himself before someone else got around to it. Really it felt more like he dialed this one in and needed an excuse as to why he was including it. Riddled with cliche after cliche, from the characters to the dialogue to the motive of the “villain,” it felt like the work of a first-time author who thought he was being clever but was really just regurgitating everything he had taken in for the day. I honestly felt a little angry with this one, which only happens when I feel an author is insulting my intelligence as a reader. A disappointing end to an otherwise decent collection. 1 of 5 stars.
I think, as a whole, the collection had the makings of something great within it but, as is often the case, some of the stories never really found themselves. I’d recommend everyone read “Loaded”, though your experience with it may vary from mine. Despite giving the collection as a whole 3 stars I think there’s enough in here for everyone to connect with something, and that says a lot more about Hill’s work than any review might.