Michelle Herbert reviews Strange Weather by Joe Hill…
Strange Weather is a collection of short stories, which not surprisingly have a connection to meteorological conditions, whether that is a growing forest fire or rain that no longer falls as expected. These stories have weather in the background, yet these are very human stories full of loss and emotion, told in different styles from horror to sci-fi. The four stories in Strange Weather are ‘Snapshot’, ‘Loaded’, ‘Aloft’, and ‘Rain’.
In ‘Snapshot’, we first meet Mike when he is 13 years old when he encounters one of his neighbours, Shelly, wandering lost near his house. Mike takes Shelly home and on the way there she tells him that the Polaroid Man is stealing her memories so that she is no longer herself. Mike knows rationally that Shelly is suffering from dementia, but questions himself when he encounters a man with what looks to be a Polaroid camera and a car full of photo albums. Most of ‘Snapshot’ is told from an older Mike’s perspective which allows the story to become a rumination on memories, how we keep them, store them, remember them and how time allows us to reflect on these events and see things we missed or didn’t understand when they happened.
The second story ‘Loaded’ at first read like many different stories connected via gun crime between 1993 and 2013. Although the further you read into ‘Loaded’, the more interrelated the stories become. There are many characters in this story including Aisha, Becks and Rog and Kellaway. Kellaway is a horrid man, with a huge chip on his shoulder. Kellaway doesn’t see himself as a racist but is one of those “Make America Great Again” arsewipes who do not like seeing people of colour in jobs they think should be theirs. Once these characters stories start to connect the story becomes more intense and horrifying. ‘Loaded’ is a monstrous tale without any supernatural machinations. This story is truly terrifying as it is so easy to imagine these events happening in the real world.
My biggest problem with the third story, ‘Aloft’, is that it follows ‘Loaded’. ‘Aloft’ is a story of loss, and not being able to get what you want. But it is also a story of wish fulfilment and entrapment. From a distance what Aubrey accidentally landed on seemed to be a cloud but this definitely isn’t a cloud! We get to know Aubrey during his insane journey across the sky, how he came to be jumping out of a plane in the first place, as well as his realisation that he has been living a half-life as he perseveres to survive this unbelievable and tense situation.
The last story of this collection is ‘Rain’. We meet Honeysuckle, the day the rain falls as crystallised nails. With the initial rainfall killing over 2000 people, Honeysuckle is saved from dying as she is babysitting her neighbour’s child who isn’t allowed outside. ‘Rain’ is full of people trying to deal with a mass trauma, with no one knowing why this happened or if it will happen again, whether this was natural or an attack from another nation. Again close to reality, we get to see a President using social media to lash out at those he perceives as his enemies. This story shows how people deal with a crisis whether that is helping to keep society going or taking the law into their own hands. Rain is structured around grief and tragedy, with the characters trying to work out how they can move on from both personal and global tragedy?
I really enjoyed reading Strange Weather, as these short stories really get under your skin. Loaded is the story that stands out for me as I am still haunted by its events. ‘Loaded’ is one of the most disturbing and saddening stories I have read in a while. Whereas Honeysuckle in ‘Rain’ is my favourite character in this collection, her strength and need to continue are how I hope that I would react if the world I knew ended. Each of these stories takes us on a journey through hope and loss where the weather is indeed strange.