Full Throttle Anthology by Joe Hill (BOOK REVIEW) 2/5
So, here’s the thing: I could have given this novel 3 stars. I know some people who likely would give it 3 stars, for a good and average rating. Maybe I would have, at another point in time, but right now, it just was an awful read to me. Beware spoilers for the following book review.
Some people write great horror because they know what is scary. And some people try to mix genres- the success of which greatly depends on the writing. Joe Hill’s anthology was, I thought, horror. But then I kept reading. Most, if not all, of the stories feature fantasy, but not in the right way. To me, they were unrealistic and gimmicky, and to put it simply: Bad horror. The ideas were there, but the way it all played out just didn’t live up to the ideal. While I can’t claim to know any of Joe Hill’s other works, I will say that this felt like a book of amateur writing.
I started each story with a good deal of hope, ready to enjoy their concept, their plot. But by the end of each of them, I was left greatly disappointed with how it played out. For me, a lack of realism takes out the scare in horror. Not only that, but all genres have to be realistic, even fantasy- there are certain things about life that have to make sense, in any genre. Take, for example, one of the earlier stories: Dark Carousel. It was a fine, average story, with the main enemy being this villainous carousel horses come to life. There was a point in which the characters were in a corvette and being hunted down by a herd of wild, dark horses. A corvette can withstand around 440 LBS. In the course of this fight scene, they not only ran into a 1,200 LB horse (as stated in the novel) twice, but it also stood on the car itself at more than one point, including putting its hooves on the top of the car. The part that really got me, however, was when the horse was run into, then, while supposedly laying its weight on the car (with the car still driving), it struck a hoof through the windshield of the car, shattering the safety glass into bits and pieces, and it hit the chest of one of the characters, breaking their ribs. Several things about this were unrealistic to me. The length of a corvette hood, versus a horse’s torso AND legs, being at the right length to strike a hoof through the windowshield? The dimensions of it, the physics of it, the act of this itself- it just took me out of the writing because it put red flags in my head that was simply unrealistic or not described well.
This was not the only story that did this. In fact, I found issues with most all the stories. The conclusion of Throttle was confusing to me, written without the explanation being clear enough. Wolverton Station was good, though I found it to be longwinded. By The Silver Water of Lake Champlain was merely okay, written from the perspective of a child, but also with no conclusion at all. There was not enough of an explanation there to make it scary, at least for me- too vague to enjoy. Faun was a decent story, though I felt it was more heavy fantasy than horror. In fact, it got a little bit boring to me by the end. Only one part stuck out to me: “Good old Hutch,’ Charn said “Good old Mehitabel.” And if you’ve read it, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Late Returns was a wonderful story, one I enjoyed, but it was again not horror, however well written it was.
My favorite story, and what I believe to be the best story in the anthology, was All I Care About is You. Futuristic dystopian, the thing that made this story so great was the symbolism and theme of it, and the ruthless main character, Iris. The ending was great, and it made the story worth reading.
It is, however, followed up by what I consider to be the worst story in this novel: Thumbprint. This story takes on military horror. In fact, a handful of stories in this novel feature military themes, including Faun, Mums, and You Are Released. Thumbprint is the most heavily featured of this, a very stereotypical story of military PTSD turned into a murderer. Not my cup of tea.
The Devil on the Staircase was decent, giving a Paradise Lost vibe to me. However, despite the interesting staircase formatting it was written with, the story itself felt like it was very monotone, and it was hard to read without growing bored. Twittering From the Circus of the Dead was written entirely in tweets- making it a quick, dialogue heavy read. Because of the nature of the plot, it was extremely predictable, causing me to fly through it. Mums was poorly written, in my opinion. It had two great plotline ideas: One, a militaristic style plot of a man with paranoia against the government, and his lackeys. Two, a plant comes to life plot. Both were decent, but the way it was written just felt… off to me. Something wasn’t quite living up to the potential that was there.
In the Tall Grass was better in the television adaptation than the story. That’s rare for me to say, but in this case, it was true. There was only one high point, one twist, that I felt was done better in the story- and I won’t spoil that here.
And then there was the last story: You Are Released. I’m going to say it plainly: This was the wrong story to end this anthology collection on. It’s clear what is going to happen, yet the end is ambiguous, and the subject matter left me rather uncomfortable- and not in a good horror sort of way.
Here’s the long and short of it: I don’t believe these stories to be the best Joe Hill has to offer. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I don’t enjoy his particular writing, or maybe I didn’t vibe well with all the heavy military and fantasy themes here. But I’ve read military fiction before and enjoyed it, and I’ve read fantasy before and enjoyed it, and I really struggled with these. I would eenjoy the story up until the ending, and then the ending would just ruin it for me: Every. Single. Time. Besides All I Care About is You, which was actually saved by the brilliant ending. Stephen King once said he sucked at endings- so much so that it’s a running joke that Bill Denbrough from IT also struggles to write endings. All I can say is that maybe Joe Hill is afflicted with the same curse. These weren’t necessarily bad ideas, and it’s not even necessarily bad writing, but there were just enough flaws to ruin it for me as a reader, leaving me with my score of a 2/5.