Title: Full Throttle
Author: Joe Hill
Date published: 2019
Published by: Gollancz/Orion Publishing
Star Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer: A copy of this collection was kindly sent to me by Jonathan Ball Publishers South Africa in exchange for an honest review.
“A book of stories isn’t a novel and can’t have the simple narrative drive of a novel. I think it should still try to have a feeling of progression, of connectedness. It’s like a road trip. You’re staying in a different inn every night: One evening it’s a romantic Victorian B&B with a supposedly haunted gazebo out back, the next it’s a cruddy Motel 6 with what looks like old bloodstains on the ceiling. The places where you stop to rest and dream are unique – but the road is the same, always waiting to carry on to whatever’s next. And when it’s over, you’ve arrived someplace new, someplace (you hope) with a good view. A place to breathe deep and take it all in.” Joe Hill
I don’t think I am capable of describing the experience of immersing yourself in a collection of short stories as perceptively and as richly as the author himself. If Joe Hill imagines this experience as a road trip than I am more then happy to hop on a figurative motorcycle and stop at a few fancy B&B’s and dodgy motels along the way if only to be near one as talented as the spawn of Stephen King himself. It is an analogy that I am not prepared to mess with. I would also like to add before I chat about the stops along the way, that I firmly believe that if you, like myself are a fan of SK then you are in very capable hands with JH. If you are afraid that the boogeyman will one day disappear into the sunset taking his blood-curdling bag of horrors with him then fear not my dearest reader…
Along this decadent journey of mayhem and madness Hill first treats us to a delicious rendition of a childhood spent as the son of Stephen King. A rare treat indeed that I wished were not merely an appetizer but a full course meal. During the trip Throttle and In the Tall Grass are co-written with Stephen King. In Throttle, a father and son who are members of a biker gang get caught up in a bad drug deal that results in the death of a young girl. What transpires is a deadly chase across a wild highway that forces the reader to not only smell the exhaust fumes, but to taste the gravel and the grit. In the Tall Grass is a classic Stephen King tale of a brother and sister lost in a strange part of Kansas after they hear voices calling for help in a field of…tall grass. This gripping story has all the supernatural elements King is excellent at throwing into creepy locations that almost always breed cult like behavior, giving off some major Children of the Corn vibes (which he also wrote).
If we are on a road trip to places unknown then we may as well do a little time travel. In Hill’s Dark Carousel the year is 1994 and four young friends are hanging out at a fairground that exudes a ‘pink smell’ of cotton candy contrasted with the darkly ominous sounds of a Romanian Waltz coming from a carousel made from a macabre collection of animal statues taken from creepy carousels around the world. These kids aren’t very nice and accuse the ride operator of theft, and because of this all but one will survive the night…
In All I Care About is You, Hill’s story of friendship and betrayal takes us forward in time. In the science fiction future of flying cars and artificial intelligence a young girl pays a robot to befriend her for a day that will both warm your soul and break your heart. Late Returns, which happens to be my favorite story in this collection, centers around a mobile library frequented by people from the past who have a habit of returning books a little late, and a librarian whose greatest fear is lending the wrong book to the wrong person.
The past always has a crazy way of haunting people and will never allow the guilty to forget their sins. In Thumbprint Mallory Grennan is suffering from a severe case of PTSD after being involved in torturing prisoners in Abu Ghraib. Her solitary existence is disturbed by the arrival of various thumbprints in the mail. In Hill’s experimental piece The Devil on the Staircase, which is typed in the form of a descending stairway (which Hill describes as being possible through using the COURIER font ) the story is an old fashioned tale of a young Italian laborer named Quirnus Calvino, whose life is spent in hard labor. Up and down the steps in the village of Positano, our young protagonist will commit the ultimate sin and will meet the son of Lucifer whilst trying to escape the law.
In Mums, a young boy whose family are members of a kind of vigilante cult called Separatists loses his mother unexpectedly. Whilst being home schooled the usual subjects of math and history he is also taught to load firearms and make homemade bombs. He meets his long-lost grandmother at a roadside stall who sells him a packet of seeds for “all the mums you could ever need” that once planted will “shoot up and love you right back, Jack.”
Joe Hill’s collection not only showcases the darkness of the human condition, but also the existence of a nature that fights back. Wolverton Station is a deeply symbolic story about a man involved in a coffee franchise who boards a train filled with wolves. By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain the magic of imagination turns ugly when two children discover what they believe to be a beached dinosaur at the lake shore. In Faun, perhaps the darkest of Hill’s tales, a group of trophy hunters in search of the ultimate kill step through a door into the most twisted version of Narnia you will ever hope to visit.
Twittering from the Circus of the Dead and You are Released are perhaps the final stops (though not necessarily in that order – Twittering is situated somewhere in the middle) on this road trip of horrors. One story is the Twitter feed/monologue of a young girl on a trip with her family and the disturbing side show they encounter along the way. The final story in the collection focuses on a group of passengers on board a Boeing 777 from LA that has been redirected to land in Fargo amidst news of nuclear attack on Earth. What transpires is more frightening than an episode of The Walking Dead because of the very simple notion that it could actually happen. In this case reality is not a sideshow but a full on sh*t show.
At the end of the ride you’ll most likely have lost your helmet and your sense of what is real, but I have a sneaking suspicion that if you have even half the dark desire I have for chilling tales, you’ll be signing up for the next trip soon enough.