At full throttle: thirteen dark stories Joe Hill

At full throttle is the most recent collection of short stories by Joe Hill, published in Italy by Sperling & Kupfer last October. In Italy it has not been long since his name began to circulate, but for twenty years now Hill has dabbled in stories, novels and comics of terror and fantasy, obtaining important awards. His, for example, are the six-volume graphic novel (main, plus an additional seventh) Locke & Key and the novel NOS4A2, from which two discreet TV series were drawn last year. In brackets, NOS4A2 it’s Hill’s best novel to date.

From father to son, a family talent.

You may have heard the name Joe Hill in relation to a much more famous one: Stephen King. Well yes, we are talking about his son, aka Joe Hillstrom King. But be careful: Hill managed to create a career not thanks to the media weight of his father, but thanks to the quality of his works. In the first years of activity, in fact, he decided to adopt part of his maternal surname in order to remain anonymous and assert his manuscripts rather than his identity card. Nobody can doubt Hill’s storytelling and storytelling skills, which match those not only of dad Steve (to whom it is instinctive to compare him given the similarity in the approach and the topics covered), but also of the great authors of the fantastic literature from which he draws inspiration, in particular Bradbury and Matheson.

At full throttle it begins with a very interesting introduction in which Hill talks about his debut in fiction and his relationship with the cumbersome father figure, with whom he collaborated for two of the stories in the collection. Most of the tales of At full throttle they have already been published in their original editions in magazines or anthologies, or as ebooks.

At full throttle is his second collection of short stories after the success of Ghosts.

For the Italian reader, this volume represents an opportunity to read the second act of Joe Hill’s short production. The first round of short stories has seen the light on 20th Century Ghosts, the anthology with which he made his debut. Released in Italy in 2009 and now out of catalog (and highly sought after), Ghosts it was an anthology that succeeded in what is probably the most difficult challenge of the fantastic / horror: mixing the suggestions of the genre with unusual, different, transversal and even metaliterary ingredients, without therefore being content to run along the tracks of the traditional canons. We cannot forget the most alienating tales of Ghosts, such as “My father’s mask” and “Voluntary hospitalization”, where masks and labyrinths become means of accessing new terrifying identities and hidden dimensions. Or even “Pop Art”, a small surrealist masterpiece, the story of an inflatable child (a kind of sentient puppet) marginalized by everyone.

The dark tradition of Matheson, Bradbury and King …

At full throttle can’t surprise us how much Ghosts. Partly because the stories are less bizarre, not reaching the incredible and unexpected heights of the examples just mentioned. Partly because they settle on known and consolidated soils of Kinghian, Mathesonian and Bradburian origin. Hill draws consciously from his most important influences in the episodes “At full throttle (Bikers)”, one of the two collaborations with dad Steve (tribute to “Duel” by Matheson), “On the silvery shores of Lake Champlain” and “You are free”, originally published on tribute anthologies.

In the large afterword dedicated to the origin of the stories, at the end of the volume, Hill himself says that “Giostra di tenebre” refers to some of King’s works (“Riding The Bullet” and “The road virus goes north” above all ), but even if not explicitly found, we also find the flavor of home in “Ritardatari”, imbued with the atmosphere of libraries, literature as a value handed down in the family, nostalgia of the past (a really nice story), and “Wolverton Station”, a fun reinterpretation of the werewolf myth on an English backdrop (inspired by a trip for a book tour in the UK).


… Enriched by an unmistakable personal touch.

The personal touch with which Joe Hill enriches the tradition is now unmistakable. The most original and unexpected style stands out in a handful of stories as “The devil on the stairs”, written in verse (or something similar) and given birth during a holiday in Positano (yes, our Positano); “Twitting from the circus of the living dead”, written using the format of tweets; “Mums”, a horror with surreal hues and imbued with sadness; “I only care about you,” a science fiction-dream pastiche. Perhaps, however, the story that leaves its mark most of all, even in its classicism, is “In the tall grass”, written with dad Steve: a whirlwind of suggestions and loss, a mixture of contemporary horror and Lovecraftian that is not to be missed even the splatter moments. Also in this case it is impossible not to look for derivations in King: in some respects it is a hybrid between “The sons of wheat”, “N” and “1408”. Previously released as a stand-alone ebook, it was recently transposed on the screen by Vincenzo Natali for Netflix with good results, as we told you in our review.

The “faithful reader” will feel at home.

The ingenious finds that characterized much of Ghosts here they are not there, or at least they do not reach the same level. Indeed half of At full throttle it seems to come from Stephen King’s pen, and this is not a bad thing in itself (indeed, it is reassuring to know that we already have a worthy successor), but the experimentation of the Joe Hill first way here gives a little of his step to consecrate already beaten paths. This makes the passionate reader of the genre feel at home, and surely the “Faithful Reader” who already loves the production of King and Hill will enjoy the book as a hot herbal tea, in many small sips.