My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Joe Hill has a way with words that evokes the senses –
Dead leaves crunched underfoot and their smell sugared the air with autumn’s perfume.
– and challenges our concept of time –
He was a big man, maybe a quarter of a century older than Harper…
He has a skill with weaving plot lines together – the way Harper remembers to ask about Harold exactly when she should, and the way she’s then given Harold’s story without forced interruptions creating a false suspense.
In fact you could say this book is epic in the true sense of the word.
You could also say it drags in parts, overflows with detail, and is twice as long as it needs to be – I just wanted the last 200 pages to be over.
After a dramatic start and an imminent end-of-the-world promise, the story slows and follows a small-town American perspective. Life there belies the promise of the blurb that ‘civilization is disappearing fast into the smoke’ with ‘a fire on every street corner’ by continuing substantially unaffected for most of a year and with zero exploration outside of a local view.
The premise for the climax felt forced, and the only drama I felt was due to excellent sentence rhythm.
I think even Hill got a bit bored in the end: when a vehicle with four of the central characters aboard goes into a chasm, but only one character is mourned, I had to force myself to re-read pages and pages of the draggiest bits trying to find where I missed the other three getting off safely. I finally found them: they never left the vehicle – they apparently didn’t warrant the same level of concern.
But what took me out of the story the most were the Stephen King references – Hill says someone’s ‘forgotten the face of his father’ – just like Roland would say in The Dark Tower. One of Hill’s main characters is deaf and dumb Nick – just like deaf and dumb Nick in The Stand. Worse, Hill’s characters repeatedly insist deaf people can’t lip read, while his father’s characters say they can. Perhaps Hill has forgotten the face of his own father.
Parts of this book made it hard to put down: it was strangely compelling, like a freeze-frame-car-crash, just before the moment of impact; but I don’t think I’ll invest the time seeing what happens in the next instalment.