Strange Weather by Joe Hill contains four short stories reminiscent of The Twilight Zone, uncomfortable yet oddly compelling. They’re like the freak shows in a shady traveling circus – you try to avert your eyes when faced with the grotesque, but you can’t stop staring. In this case, you can’t stop reading. William Morrow | October, 2017 | Hardcover | 432 pp
Michael Figlione is a lonely, portly kid with a penchant for tinkering. He’s a young inventor who works out of his garage taking things apart and putting them back together. He loves to know how things work. He’s in his garage when he sees his old nanny standing barefoot in the street. She’s confused and lost, and she warns Michael of the Polaroid Man, the man who takes pictures and steals memories. He thinks it’s old age or dementia, until he comes across a crusty man with a strange, seamless camera and boatloads of photo albums in his car. Michael’s not a brave boy and he’s terrified of the man after a clumsy accident and a reveal of the camera’s powers. But when he’s called upon to watch his old nanny during a storm, Michael knows the Polaroid Man will be there and yet he goes.
Randall Kellaway is your average, everyday white supremacist who doesn’t think he’s a bigot at all. Dishonorably discharged, turned away from the police academy, separated from his wife and child because of his threats, and disarmed by court order, this mall cop has a huge chip on his shoulder. When a jilted woman kills her married lover in the mall during the early morning hours, Randall Kellaway is the first one on the scene outside of the jewlery store where shots had erupted and he asks a hiding survivor if he saw the shooter.
“Muslim female shooter. And the owner, he’s dead, I think.”
Except, that’s not what he said – that’s what Kellaway wanted to hear. So when Randall Kellaway enters with his weapon drawn, and an innocent Muslim woman in a hijab gets to her feet, you can imagine what happens next. After his killing spree and realization of his mistake, Kellaway rearranges the crime scene and is lauded as a hero. But as forensics catches up with him and a journalist with a hunch corners him, Randall Kellaway decides to finish what he started.
Aubrey does not want to jump. In honor of a good friend who had recently passed, he and his friends are skydiving as a tribute and at the last minute, Aubrey backs out. But when the plane loses all power, he has no choice. He has to jump. Moments before, his friend Harriet had observed a strange cloud moving in the opposite direction and looking like a classic disc-shaped UFO. They jump and for a second, Aubrey forgets his fear – until they land hard. He lands on his tandem partner, nearly crushing him, on something in the sky. It’s that strange cloud. Aubrey detaches himself before realizing where he is, and his tandem partner, and only hope for escape, is pulled away by the open parachute. Aubrey is left alone on a floating cloud – but it’s not exactly a cloud.
Honeysuckle was preparing for her girlfriend to move in when the storm hit. But instead of rain, the dark clouds unleashed razor-sharp needles of crystal. Everyone caught outside was killed, including Honeysuckle’s beloved. It wasn’t an isolated event and the murderous clouds pop up all over the United States killing thousands. With the amount of destruction, infrastructure is down. Honeysuckle decides to hoof it to find her girlfriend’s father, to let him know what happened. As a butch lesbian, she faces some dangerous situations on the road. But she probably never expected to find the source of the crystal needle rain.
It would be disingenuous to say I loved all the stories. I had a problem with Loaded. It seems to fall in line with the new typecasting for men in blue – painting them all with one broad stroke as killers and xenophobes which is hardly the case. Coming from a cop family with men who would give their last breath to save even someone who called them a pig, I found it painful to read. For it wasn’t just this killer, even the police chief in the story is painted as a racist. This is problematic stereotyping, just as it would be if he wrote a story of a black man from the hood who robbed, looted, murdered and raped all day with his gang.
Or perhaps I didn’t take to that story because it could be real – because it is something that could happen while the other three had a supernatural/paranormal/scifi bend. Perhaps the other three were “safe” while Loaded was not.
That said, I wanted more from the rest of them. I didn’t want them to end – they were absorbing and strange and fascinating and revolting and bizarre – little embodiments of everything I love about Joe Hill’s warped mind. What stands out is his diverse collection of imperfect protagonists, imperfect by society’s standards: the fat, nerdy kid; the ‘angry’ black woman; the friend-zoned good guy; the butch lesbian. They are the average Americans, and not the perfect tens we normally encounter in books.
Highly recommended to all.
by Joe Hill