full throttle
Joe Hill
William Morrow
2019

Hey! A new Joe Hill book! Don’t mind if I do.

Here we have yet another collection of short stories by Mr. Hill, which follows the collection of novellas that came out a couple of years prior. Like that one, I snagged my copy of Full Throttle through my Kindle, rather than cluttering up my very limited living space with the physical edition. And like the other Joe Hill books, I managed to devour Full Throttle in short order. Let’s see what we got here, shall we?

“THROTTLE” (with Stephen King)
A biker gang, stopping at a truck stop after a drug deal gone horribly wrong, inadvertently run afoul of a vengeful truck driver that may or may not have had a link to one of the victims… This story kicks off the collection, and it’s a nice Dual-type thriller that doesn’t end well. Good way to start, this is…

“DARK CAROUSEL”
A guy named Paul recounts the time in the mid-1990s when he and his friends, one magical evening at a boardwalk carnival in their hometown, provoked a terror that has followed him to this day. Thanks for making me afraid of big, fancy carousel merry-go-rounds, Joe. My one last bastion of innocence and sanity, and now it’s gone…

“WOLVERTON STATION”
A high-level management businessman from America nicknamed “The Woodcutter” is in England helping to open a coffee shop franchise in London, when he discovers that one of the towns he is passing through is populated by anthropomorphic wolves. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere, I think…

“BY THE SILVER WATER OF LAKE CHAMPLAIN”
One misty morning, a couple of children playing on the sandy shore of Lake Champlain come across what just might be the carcass of a creature that is rumored to live in the lake itself…or it just might be their over-active imaginations. This is one of those stories that makes you continually wonder if what the kids are seeing is real, or if it was all colored by their fantastic imaginations superimposed on the world. Even the ending doesn’t help that part out. Well done, this one…

“FAUN”
Here’s a story that dares to ask the question, What if someone found one of those mystical passages to Narnia from our world…and then turned part of Narnia into a hunting preserve? Exactly what you would expect would happen, actually. Fantastic story, this one. More than once, I found myself widening my eyes at the story unfolding before me, and going “whoa”, either out loud or to myself (my work mates already think I’m batty the way it is)…

“LATE RETURNS”
After his parents’ suicide, a former truck driver takes a part-time job driving the hometown library’s Bookmobile, where he discovers the ghosts of former patrons returning overdue books, and he himself can maybe do something good for them…or, maybe create a grandfather paradox by mistake. Oh, yeah, this was a good one. Kind of a heartfelt ghost story with some time travel shenanigans thrown in for taste…

“ALL I CARE ABOUT IS YOU”
In a futuristic society, a just-turned-16-year-old girl celebrates her birthday by renting a robot helper for an hour, has an existential discussion with it, crashes a 13-year-old’s swank birthday party, among other things. Here’s something more of a pulp sci-fi flavored tale, proving Hill’s chops in other genres rather than horror and dark fantasy…

“THUMBPRINT”
A discharged PFC who is now working at the bar in her hometown starts receiving unmarked envelopes containing a sheet of paper with a thumbprint on them. First in her mailbox, then within her house, until she finally gets to meet the person behind these cryptic notes. Gotta say, this was a very good, very effective story that takes a look inside the head of a former soldier who was damaged psychologically from the war and doing not-nice things to others as a civilian, then suddenly finding herself in the cross-hairs of someone who was even more damaged from war…

“THE DEVIL ON THE STAIRCASE”
A boy living in very late 19th Century Italy in a mountain village accessible only by way of a network of staircases carved into the cliffs has a bit of trouble and hides out on a staircase he’s never seen before, which leads somewhere he’s never knew existed, and gets a special gift from a creepy child that may or may not be the child of the Devil. There’s a note from the author after this story that mentions that this story was originally arranged in a way that the paragraphs resembled steps, but since I got the electronic edition, it was set all normal-looking. Eh, decent story any way you read it…

“TWITTERING FROM THE CIRCUS OF THE DEAD”
Written entirely as a series of Twitter messages from a bored and angsty teenage girl on vacation with her family, from the snowy mountains of Colorado back to their home in California; they stop at an out-of-the-way roadside circus attraction that features zombies as the main attraction. Yeah, it seems gimmicky, but the way this story makes your brain fill in the blanks from the limited characters used in each Tweet here gets the job done with freaking you out. Great story, this…

“MUMS”
A 13-year-old boy in a very dysfunctional farm family plants some special flowers around his mother’s grave, which eventually start telling him to, you know, do some bad stuff. See, this story is a perfect example of how Hill can take the Unreliable Narrator style and twist the story enough to really throw you off effectively…

“IN THE TALL GRASS” (with Stephen King)
A family stops at a rest area, where they hear cries of help coming from the titular tall grass off the road, and of course they go in to help. Mind- and Time-bendy-wendy things ensue from there. The other story collected here that was written with Stephen King; I actually read this a couple of years ago by way of my Google Book account, buying the novella by itself. It was haunting and mind-bending then, and here it is reprinted, thereby negating my need to write a separate blog post. And no, I haven’t watched the movie adaptation yet…

“YOU ARE RELEASED”
Here we have several people aboard an airplane during a cross-country flight–a young business man, an older actress, a mother and her inquisitive daughter, the pilot and co-pilot, a flight attendant, an uptight liberal-minded guy, a rotund Make ‘Murica Great Again good ol’ boy and his wife, and a young MIT student–and each of their reactions to an unscheduled interruptions to all of their plans due to the start of World War III while they’re still in the air. This is a great story to end the collection, as it offers a fascinating POV shot from various different points of view of a crisis and how they internalize things…

Am I beginning to sound like a broken record by saying that Full Throttle is a great collection of short stories? I know, it’s not very becoming of an online critic to come into something already wanting to like it. I, however, never claimed to be a proper pop culture critic; and while I do have kind of a child-like naivete concerning wanting to like something I read, the vast majority of Joe Hill’s literary output have never disappointed since picking up a mass market paperback copy of Heart Shaped Box back in the day. All of the stories here were really effective on many levels, and managed to blend and play with several genre and writing styles to offer more than just bland same-old, same-old. Fans of horror, fantasy, dark fantasy, urban fantasy, science fiction and hard-boiled thrillers will find something to like in this collection. Highly Recommended.