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Full Throttle: Stories


Full Throttle: Stories

The title of Joe Hill’s latest book, FULL THROTTLE, perfectly describes what you get. The 14 stories in this very generous collection should include a directive to the reader to settle back and strap in while expecting nose- and brain-bleeds.

These pieces were written over the course of the past 12 years or so and mark the second collection of Hill’s shorter work (after 20th CENTURY GHOSTS), most of which have seen far-flung publication in a variety of places and media. A confession here: Aside from HEART-SHAPED BOX, Hill’s classic debut novel, I have an inclination towards his short stories. It’s simply a matter of taste. Regardless of whether you prefer Hill’s piranhas (which will devour you quickly) or his longer fiction, in which he stretches his bat wings to their full length, there is SO much to love here. He can terrify you, but he never sacrifices storytelling ability on the altars of gore and fright.

Hill demonstrates this immediately with “Throttle,” which opens the volume and is penned with his father, Stephen King. Written as a tribute to Richard Matheson, it is obviously influenced by “Duel,” that worthy author’s much-lauded short story. While Matheson took a chance encounter with a semi tractor-trailer driver and rolled with it, Hill creates a couple of subplots and generational conflicts to spin things in a few slightly different directions. As with most of the other stories here, he leaves you satisfied while wanting more.

"The 14 stories in this very generous collection should include a directive to the reader to settle back and strap in while expecting nose- and brain-bleeds."

Did I say “wanting more”? Try reading “You Are Released,” which is about a cabin and cockpit full of folks on a passenger plane, and tell me that your stomach doesn’t drop out from under you when you read the last few sentences. No peeking. Then there is “Faun.” All of those fairy tale stories had to have come from somewhere. Hill shows you where. You might think twice about reading them to your children or grandchildren after delving into this one, which has more twists and turns than a gargoyle’s spinal column.

My favorite story? I don’t have one. I have several, including the ones I talk about above and below, and a few others of which lack of space prohibits the mention. The only story that does not entirely sing to me is a marvelously told tale, “By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain,” a tribute to Ray Bradbury. I must note that I am in a distinct minority here, as most readers are enchanted by this story of the discovery of the carcass of a legendary sea monster, so much so that a video version is slated to be shown as part of the new “Creepshow” series on the Shudder streaming service.

The story that actually put me more in the mind of a Bradbury tale is the grim “Dark Carousel,” in which four teenagers on the cusp of high school graduation make a couple of impulsive decisions that abruptly and irrevocably change the course of their lives. According to Hill, interestingly enough, it was influenced by a couple of well-known Stephen King stories. Go figure. Regardless of the well from which it springs, “Dark Carousel” might make you swear off carnivals in the same manner that “Wolverton Station” will cause you to swear off commuter trains. “In the Tall Grass” --- also co-written by King --- will keep you out of fields and on the interstate (read it before you see the Netflix film; the former is better). “Twittering from the Circus of the Dead” will steer you away from roadside attractions, and... Oh heck, you might wind up barricaded in your domicile by the time you finish all of these stories. No one would blame you.

I need to make an additional note about the 14 stories that comprise FULL THROTTLE. Only 13 are listed in the Table of Contents. Those who remember CDs may also recall the occasional “hidden track,” a song that was not listed on the CD jewel box but would suddenly manifest itself several seconds after the conclusion of what was ostensibly the last song. Hill does something similar here with an otherwise unnoted story, “A Little Sorrow,” which is short and not so sweet but quite satisfying nonetheless. Let me say that I know the little boy here very well.

Add together Hill’s commentary on each of the stories --- an occasionally rambling but always enthralling 16-page introduction, “Who’s Your Daddy?” where Hill goes there --- and a collection of stories that by and large have re-energized horror literature over the past 10 years, and you have every reason you need to buy two copies of FULL THROTTLE: one to read and keep for yourself, and one to lend out and most likely never get back.

This probably will anger a number of people, but I am putting forth the proposition that future readers may mark this book’s publication as the point when Stephen King became known as Joe Hill’s father, as opposed to Hill being known as King’s son. I may be wrong, but I’m making the point anyway. I think that Hill’s father might well agree with me. Read FULL THROTTLE and decide for yourself.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 3, 2019

Full Throttle: Stories
by Joe Hill