Review: Strange Weather by Joe Hill

9781473221185Joe Hill follows up his brilliant epic The Fireman (one of my favourite books last year) with a collection of four novellas guaranteed to enthrall, and in one particular case, utterly chill its readers.

Strange Weather highlights a terrifying truth: real world terrors far outweigh the horrific manifestations of our nightmares. Three of the stories in this collection, linked thematically by diverse weather phenomena affecting their worlds, demonstrate Hill’s peerless imagination and uncanny ability to make the impossible scary as hell, chill the blood of his readers, and make their hearts race with fear. In Rain, a blissful Colorado day turns into Hell on Earth when needles begin pouring from the sky in place of rain. In Snapshot, an elderly neighbour warns a young boy about “the Polaroid Man” whose camera seems to be stealing memories. In Aloft, instead of rocketing through sky and clouds, a sky-diver find himself stranded on an alien cloud on which his memories and desires come to life in ephemeral form.

But it’s the second short story, Loaded, that proves the most resonant and disturbing, and oddly enough, free of any semblance of paranormal trappings. It’s real, and its terrifying. Recounting his almost-palpable disgust for America’s gun laws, Hill’s tale  recounts a decade-long history of gun violence and racism and domestic abuse in a Florida town through the actions of a mall cop. It’s an utterly creepy, horrific story, and its ending made my stomach lurch. It’s Joe Hill writing at the peak of his powers.

The four novellas that comprise Strange Weather are dark, unpredictable, and altogether entertaining. After the gargantuan The Fireman and NOS4A2, it’s a treat seeing Hill excel at the shorter form.

ISBN: 9781473221185
Format: Paperback (232mm x 154mm x 32mm)
Pages: 448
Imprint: Gollancz
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Publish Date: 31-Oct-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

9781911215370I’m a late Murakami convert. My first sample of his work – 2014’s Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – inspired a marathon of Murkami madness over the next eighteenth, solidifying my adoration of his imagination and his spare, unadorned prose. It lead to the devout proclamation:  whatever Haruki Murakami writes, I will read. So when Men Without Women arrived in store, there was no pause for deliberation: I slapped my money down on the counter and slipped my copy of the short story collection into my bag. There was no doubt in my mind: my commute over the next couple of days would be a delight.

In the seven stories that comprise this collection, Murakami explores themes of adultery, friendship, alienation and sex through the perspective of emotionally isolated men. Perhaps they’re struggling in the aftermath of a faded love, unable to cope with their subsequent loneliness; perhaps they are men who’ve never experienced love, but are desperate for its touch; or men who are in love, but fear its loss, and how its annulment might ruin their lives. The women in these tales are never fully realised, almost entirely eponymous. They serve as potential saviours, or narrative devices, to demonstrate the stuntedness of the male protagonists.

Murakami’s prose is as delectable as ever, though it only serves to highlight the bleakness of most of these stories. Men Without Women is eminently readable, and rife with the author’s recurrent motifs, but lacks the sparkle, if not the general potency, of his other short stories. Of course, readers’ mileage may vary. One thing’s for certain: these are stories that beg for discussion. Add this one to your reading group list.

ISBN: 9781911215370
Format: Hardback (222mm x 144mm x 25mm)
Pages: 240
Imprint: Harvill Secker
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 9-May-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

9780241287972Anything is Possible is a luminous collection of short stories tied to Elizabeth Strout’s previous novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton,  which told the story of a hospitalised novelist — the titular Lucy — coming to terms with her destitute childhood during evasive conversations with her estranged mother. It was a delectably quiet, understated, but powerful novella; one of those books you read, and enjoy, but only fully appreciate once you’ve let it marinate.

Anything is Possible is kind of, but not exactly, a sequel to My Name is Lucy Barton. It is set in and around Lucy’s hometown of Amgash, Illinois, and indeed, she features as a main character in one of the stories. But this book has more of a connection to Strout’s Olive Kitteridge than My Name is Lucy Barton, in that is comprised of distinct, but interconnected short stories, each of which delves into the minutiae of small-town life.

The book focuses on the complexities, ambiguities and vulnerabilities of everyday people. As with any collection of short stories, some are more resonant than others. Sister — featuring Lucy Barton, her sister Vicky, and brother Pete — is worth the cover price alone (even for those who’ve not read My Name is Lucy Barton); so too the final story, Gift, which stars the Barton’s second cousin Abel. Really, they’re all gems, each of the nine stories demonstrating Strout’s incredible gift. Her understated prose cuts through to the core brilliantly.

ISBN: 9780241287972
Format: Hardback (198mm x 129mm x mm)
Pages: 280
Imprint: Viking
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 4-May-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

 

Review: The Martini Shot (& Other Stories) by George Pelecanos

Martini ShotThe Martini Shot features eight compelling portraits of lives touched by, and in some cases embedded in, crime. George Pelecanos provides unflinching insight into the cognizant and inadvertent decisions and actions that can derail lives, and shift a person from the straight-and-narrow to a darker path. There are no heroes and villains in this collection: just people, reacting to their circumstances in various ways, and suffering (or succeeding) because of it.

The Confidential Informant involves a street-wise kid and his twisted desire to make his father proud. The plan he hatches to claim a $1,000 reward for information regarding a recent murder has devastating consequences; but the kid’s quest for redemption in the eyes of his father makes for enthralling reading, and proves to be one of the collection’s best. Chosen chronicles the lives of a Greek-American couple and their adopted trio of sons, the youngest of who is Sepro Lucas (who will of course be familiar to veteran Pelenacos readers). It provides fascinating insight into character’s backstory, but doesn’t add anything vital to the Lucas mythos. Despite the lack of action and a real narrative thrust, it’s a highly entertaining sojourn into the past.

String Music offers parallel narratives: Tonio Harris, who has made an enemy of some very bad people, and Sergeant Peters who makes it his business to protect the kid. It’s a snapshot of life on the street, revealing the harsh, gritty reality of both sides of the law; essentially, Pelecanos doing what he does best.

When You’re Hungry shifts locales, set in Brazil, where an alleged murder victim has been sighted and a crack insurance investigator is dispatched to provide confirmation. Along the way he makes some misinformed alliances, and suddenly this simple job in this apparent paradise takes a darker turn. One of my favourites, Miss Mary’s Room, again sees Pelecanos spotlighting life on the street, and the ruthlessness required to survive. The narrator’s callous attitude towards the intended murder of his friend is chilling; so too his final words. Plastic Paddy, meanwhile, recalls the dangers a group of friends faced while smoking dope in their youth, and how meaningless that time of their lives was.

The Dead Their Eyes Implore Us dips into the world of Nick Stefanos (a Pelecanos regular) and stars an immigrant who struggles to build a meaningful life in America; a task made even harder when he takes it upon himself to enact vengeance on the person who killed his friend.

The title novella, The Martini Shot, sees a TV writer / producer, Vic, tracking down the men who killed his gaffer – a drug dealer (albeit an amiable one). Pelecanos clearly utilizes knowledge garnered from his time on The Wire and producing his own independent films, using lingo most of us aren’t be familiar with. It’s a solid story, but is padded in comparison to the other stories, and lacks that special something because of this.

The seven short stories, plus novella, are a tour de force from George Pelecanos. For new readers, a satisfactory introduction to his work; for long-time readers, an enjoyable appetizer until his next full-length release.