Discovering horror in everyday life



By Joe Hill

Gollancz/ Hardcover/ 433 pages/ $35.24/Books Kinokuniya/ 4/5 stars

American author Joe Hill's latest collection of short stories promises to add a dash of strangeness to your holiday season.

Strange Weather presents four jarring short stories that range from the fantastic to the all-too-real, but never ventures far from horror.

Kicking off the collection is Snapshot, in which an 11-year-old boy in 1988 comes into contact with a tattooed Polaroid Man toting a supernatural camera that steals and erases people's memories.

"Don't let him take a picture of you," warns his neighbour, one of the Polaroid Man's first victims. "Don't let him start taking things away."

Fans of American-style horror in the vein of Stephen King will find familiar horror tropes of a mysterious man interrupting the quiet serenity of a small town and the loss of childhood innocence. Hill is the son of authors Stephen and Tabitha King.

The second story, Loaded, is easily the most terrifying of the four, even as it is the least supernatural. But it is precisely its intense realism in taking the lack of gun control laws in the United States to its violent, logical extreme that makes it slam home with the full force of a .44 slug.

A series of violent incidents erupts at a local suburban mall. A jealous former lover shoots a store manager, to which a security guard with anger issues and a restraining order responds by shooting the first person he sees upon arrival - an innocent shopper who happens to be a woman wearing a hijab and with a baby.

It is a story horrific not because it preys on the supernatural or unknown, as horror writers have learnt to manipulate effectively, but because it is something readers see on the news far too often.

Aloft is a whimsical but welcome break. Self-styled loser and acrophobic Aubrey Griffin goes on a skydiving trip despite his better judgment in order to impress his crush, only to wander into a freak electrical storm that knocks out the plane's power and leaves him stranded alone on a solid cloud - one which can conjure up things he desires.

The reader returns to the ground like rain from the clouds in the aptly titled Rain, which follows the aftermath of a deadly storm, not of raindrops, but of crystalline nails that slaughter all in their path.

The horror lies not only in Hill's gory depiction of people impaled by hundreds of crystal needles - a "bride in a red gown, all stuck full of needles" - but the fact that the eco-disaster is branded as an act of terrorism.

Nuclear weapons are launched, cities are wiped out and the story ends on a post-apocalyptic note that portends further horror ahead.

If Strange Weather gives you pause when looking at a camera or makes you hesitate for just a split second before stepping out into a rainstorm, then Hill has succeeded in what his stories set out to do: discover the horror in everyday life.

If you like this, read: Her Body And Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press, 2017, $26.05, Books Kinokuniya).

Machado's debut novel treads between science fiction and psychological realism in a collection of short stories that explores the realities of women's lives and violence enacted on their bodies.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2017, with the headline 'Discovering horror in everyday life'. Print Edition | Subscribe