Strange Weather: Four Short Novels
- By Joe Hill
- William Morrow
- 448 pp.
- Reviewed by Adriana Delgado
- November 29, 2017
Will you enjoy this quartet of inventive tales? The forecast is mixed.
Amidst the multiple natural disasters that have made themselves present in the last few months, it’s perhaps fitting that horror writer Joe Hill’s new collection of novels is named Strange Weather.
The book consists of four novellas related to unusual and unnatural happenings, all brought about by some sort of weather manifestation. In the first novella, “Snapshot,” a teenager is confronted with a mysterious individual known only as the Polaroid Man after his dementia-ridden childhood nanny gives him a stern warning: “Don’t let him take a picture of you. Don’t let him start taking things away.”
The characters carry more weight than the plot here, beginning with the nanny’s African former body-builder husband, whom she refers to as “the Afrikaner.” Said husband, Larry, is a character that fluctuates between humorous and tragic, his phrases and accent providing a moment of laughter that is interwoven with the dramatic sadness at slowly losing what is left of his wife.
Hill’s adolescent narrator, Michael, lives with his father after his mother abandoned both of them (ironically, to live in Africa) in order to have the freedom her soul supposedly craves, a freedom that isn’t possible with a family, even though she never divorces Michael’s father.
She very rarely visits her son and, when she does, her affection toward Michael is that of a distant relative. His father, on the other hand, is the true parent, one who tries to be there even when he isn’t and provides Michael with a stable if not altogether idyllic home.
For all these reasons, Michael ends up being ripe pickings for the Polaroid Man, whom he meets in a convenience store. The Polaroid Man’s M.O. involves photographing people, thus robbing them of their memories. As Michael becomes his target, we, in turn, become uncertain as to who the Polaroid Man really is.
But despite the confusing outline of the Polaroid Man’s nature, and an even more puzzling ending, this novella delivers a variety of scary moments cocooned in a string of storms, lightning, and heavy rain.
The three remaining stories in Strange Weather — “Loaded,” “Aloft,” and “Rain” — are a bit…well…stranger.
“Loaded” is perhaps the most mundane of the three; it’s the story of a man’s desperation to redeem himself in the eyes of his son, and of a young woman who makes a vacuous promise to remain chaste and is then dumped by her much older lover, igniting a rampage of revenge and duplicity with disastrous consequences.
“Aloft” is, sadly, a difficult and even boring read. In it, Aubrey, a lifeless and cowardly man, dares himself to jump out of an airplane both in memory of a friend lost to cancer and to impress a longtime crush. But as Aubrey loses his nerve, we lose interest.
In the final story, “Rain,” the book regains some of its initial mojo. A town bombarded by nails falling from the sky is enigmatic enough to keep our interest, particularly when the narrator is forced to go on what turns out to be a soul-searching journey after many succumb to the deadly nail storms, including the person she most cares for.
Strange Weather is a worthy read, if only for its unusual characters and plots. But make no mistake: This isn’t in the same league as Hill’s novels Heart-Shaped Box, Horns, or even The Fireman. With this one, you may want to keep your expectations a bit more on the side of light showers with a chance of thunder.
Adriana Delgado is a freelance journalist whose reviews of independent and foreign films have appeared in Cineaction magazine, on Artfilmfile.com, and elsewhere. She also works as an editorial news assistant for the Palm Beach Daily News (aka, “the Shiny Sheet”) and contributes to Library Journal.