I received this book from Gollancz in return for an honest review.
A collection of four short novels focusing on some of the main issues facing America to this day it was exactly what I needed to get me out of my reading slump. The first novella Snapshot, follows Michael Figlione from a young age to an adult and his interactions with his neighbour Shelley, and the Polaroid man. Deeply unsettling and poignant it was an incredible introductory novella.
Shelley is suffering from memory loss by the hand of the Polaroid man, and it is only through Michael’s investigations that he believes her instead of putting it down to the degenerating mind of an older person. Overcoming his own fears he sets out to save the woman who was more of a mother to him than his own and allow her to lead a relatively normal life. Their relationship is adorable to read and the pieces of the past that Shelley manages to hold onto show more of her character than the memories that the Polaroid man steals. It is a haunting look at how we view older people and their mental health decline, and looks at what we can do to make their lives a little bit easier. The ending is bittersweet, but you as a reader know Michael has made the best decision he could in the circumstances.
Loaded is the second novel and by far the most hard hitting of all four; focusing on gun crime and the mind-set that many Americans have about their right to bear arms it is perhaps the most thought provoking story in the book. With a 19 year gap between the prologue and the main story it shows how little has changed in the mind-set of some Americans in that time. A young girl watches her older brother get shot, nineteen years later she is reporting on a shooting in mall involving a Muslim woman, her baby and other casualties. The novel deals mainly with the perception of other people and how the media pushes us towards certain ideas and notions about other races and religions. I won’t say too much more about it as I don’t want to take anything away from the plot; however, the ending is disturbing on so many levels and paints an image of America that many would perhaps like to go unseen.
The third story Aloft follows a man who, after skydiving from a plane finds himself on the outside of a spaceship, disguised as a cloud, as it floats across America. Aubery, is a very talented musician and joined duo Harriet and June and began travelling around America with them. He has a more than slightly creepy infatuation with Harriet which is the main theme of this novel, perception of other people. He has idealised Harriet to such an extent that he is unable to see how she is playing with him and toying with his feelings. He is in love with the idea of her and as we read his story atop of the space ship we see how disturbing his thoughts of her are and learn exactly what she does to keep him with them. It is a slightly odd story but enjoyable nonetheless. It was interesting to see how the woman in his head came to be and seeing how he dealt with the obstacles of living atop of a cloud for so long, at the same time as overcoming his fears of learning the truth finally plucking the courage to do what he knows he needs to.
Finally we come to Rain, the final novel and again one with a twist. The sky is raining needles into the people below and nobody knows why. People are saying global warming, others are saying God’s wrath is raining down upon them, all Honeysuckle knows is she has just lost the love of her life as she decides to take a trip to the next town in order to tell her girlfriend’s father. This novel looks at cults, faith, gender and love and how the beginning of the end of the world affects the people that are left behind. It shows us a stark reminder that homosexual love is still not accepted in today’s age and the trials young people overcome to be with the one they love. Like all of his short stories there isn’t a happy ending, only a realistic one. Hill holds a mirror up to society perfectly and asks us to question are actions in today’s evolving world.
Having not read The Fireman, it has shot up my list as a book to read soon. Hill’s writing is engaging, witty and enjoyable to read when dealing with these subtly complex issues. I would recommend that everyone picks up a copy. Due to them being short novels it doesn’t feel like a sprint to read through it all, although you just might once you are hooked.