Vary rarely do I review the audio of a book. Though I’m a big audiobook reader/listener, I tend to swap between the physical and audio versions of I’m reading and generally just review the actual book itself, not the audio production. There have been a few notable exceptions, most especially Daisy Jones & The Six, but those exceptions are few and far between. Today, I have another exception to add to the list with Joe Hill’s most recent short fiction collection, Full Throttle. And it was such a strong collection! There were only two stories that I really didn’t care for and two that I felt were just okay, as opposed to the nine stories that were either 4, 4.5, or 5 star experiences.
In my opinion, short stories are the fictional form most well suited to an audio format. A short story on audio is often the perfect length for a long walk or a traffic jam or chores on a Saturday morning. And there is something about being read to that brings me right back to childhood, even if the stories I listen to as an adult are far removed from those that my mother once read to me. There was only one aspect of this particular collection that drove me crazy; a lack of information on which reader narrated which story. There is of course a list of narrators, but I couldn’t find a breakdown of stories paired with their readers ANYWHERE. Amazon, Audible, AudioFile Magazine, Harper Collins’ website, and even Goodreads reviews got me nowhere. And I read every single review! So I took it upon myself to research and match up the narrators with their stories to the best of my ability. Seriously, this is the most research and legwork I’ve ever put into a review. If you happen to notice any errors in my pairings, please message me and I will correct said mistake posthaste.
Below you’ll find micro reviews for each short story. But before I get into the tales themselves, I’d like to say a bit about Hill’s opening. I absolutely adore the forward of this book: Who’s Your Daddy? Getting some background on Hill’s relationship with his famous author parents and how he grew up to be a writer himself. How could he not be compared to the King of modern horror when that King is his dad? And honestly, how both he and his father handled rejection is so inspiring. I love that Hill decided to follow in his father’s footsteps but didn’t want to get there riding said father’s coattails. And now, without further ado, here are my thoughts on the stories in this collection.
Throttle (with Stephen King), read by Stephen Lang: 3 stars
Not super original, but a story well told. I found it an interesting departure from the relationship Hill described having with his own dad in the forward. There was nothing wrong with this story, but it felt decidedly more King than Hill. While the trappings were different, this is a story I’ve heard before.
Dark Carousel, read by Nate Corddry: 4.5 stars
I really loved this one. I don’t think a scary story involving a carousel can exist without making me think of Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and I was glad Hill gave him a nod with the mention of The October Country. There was also a quick reference to NOS4A2 that was fun to catch. The story itself was engaging and tense, and I didn’t fully predict the outcome. There were a couple of horrifying moments that I could actually visual, and they totally creeped me out in the best way. This is a story I’ll happily read every October.
Wolverton Station, read by Neil Gaiman: 4 stars
Honestly, that fourth star is for Gaiman. The man has an exquisite reading voice. The story itself was as tense as the previous story, but had an absurdity to the concept that was almost funny. I love the thought of dapper werewolves, and sports bro werewolves, and other classes of werewolf all sharing a train.
By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain, read by Kate Mulgrew: 4.5 stars
This little story was sweet and heartbreaking, and it’s easy to see that Hill can write compelling and tangibly real children just as well as his father. I wish I could adopt Gail. She’s insanely smart and creative and has an imagination second to none. I would’ve come to see your find, Gail. I promise.
Faun, read by Zachary Quinto: 4.5 stars
This gave me serious “The Most Dangerous Game” vibes, but the fantasy edition. It was inspired by Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder” but managed to never feel derivative. It also paid homage to fantasy tales like Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but with a very dark twist. In my opinion it was one of the most original and least King-ish of the stories in the collection. Also, don’t hunt what you don’t understand. And don’t be a dick, because sometimes it’s fatal.
Late Returns, read by Wil Weaton: 5 stars
A time traveling book-mobile that gives those nearing their deaths one last, great read from the future? YES PLEASE. Books are the best thing in the world for bringing people together, and I can’t think of any parting gift from the world as wonderful as a chance to read a perfect-for-me book that won’t be written until long after I’m gone. Also, Hill found a way to namedrop himself and it made me smile. Very poignant, and definitely my favorite. It’s a story I would happily buy a physical copy of and which I would love to find a way to give to my bookwormy friends.
All I Care About Is You, read by Ashley Cummings: 4 stars
The most sci-fi story of the collection. Iris felt very real, and struck a perfect balance between snotty, selfish teenager and tired, philosophical young adult who has had to grow up before her time. The future Hill crafted for this story is incredibly intriguing, walking a line between a fantasy world and a world so overly saturated in entertainment that it borders on a dystopia. It’s a ferocious life, and Iris is definitely cut out for it. It was sweet and thoughtful, sad and horrible, all in turns.
Thumbprint, read by Laysla De Oliveira: 1.5 stars
One of my two least favorites of the stories. I can’t put my finger (or thumb) on what it was that I hated so much. Every character is either a horrible person or pitiable. It did nothing for me, except make me doubt that humanity is in any way redeemable. It felt oddly preachy, even though I can’t nail down what exactly was being preached. I just didn’t like it.
The Devil on the Staircase, read by George Guidall: 3.5 stars
There was something fairy tale-esque about this story that I really enjoyed. It felt like a fable made real. This was the shortest story in the collection and I think it suffered for it. With just a bit more information this could have been at least a 4 star tale, but it ended up feeling a bit rushed.
Mums, read by Connor Jessup: 4.5 stars
Well, that was absolutely terrifying. By far the scariest story in the collection. There were some images evoked that I’m pretty sure are going to haunt my dreams for a while. It’s amazing to me how significant the mom’s name turned out to be, and I’m still not positive what was real and what was dreamed. I don’t think I’ll ever plant anything on a grave; precut bouquets will just have to do. *shudders*
In the Tall Grass (with Stephen King), read by Stephen Lang: 4 stars
Very creepy. And scary. While different in plot, the setting brought to mind another classic King short story, “Children of the Corn.” Stories like these are why I have no desire to go through corn mazes at Halloween time. No thank you. Pregnant women, steer clear!
You Are Released, read by Joe Hill: 1.5 stars
My other least favorite. Too realistic to be enjoyable. I read to escape, so I was immediately turned off by the real politics and the plausible danger. I also found it very forgettable; the story is already fading away in my mind. It did nothing for me. Except for the spelling bee girl. She was adorable. Half a star for her.
Twittering From the Circus of the Dead (read by no one, as it was included as a PDF): 4 stars
I totally understand why this wasn’t recorded as part of the audiobook, but was instead included as a PDF. The tweet format would have lost its power if spoken instead of visually read. The format worked incredibly well for this story. I’m always on the lookout for good circus stories, scary or otherwise, and this was a good one made more interesting through its formatting.
Overall, I found this to be an incredibly strong collection. While I think that Full Throttle would be worth purchasing for “Late Returns” alone, there are a host of great stories here. And they’re varied enough that there’s something here for just about everyone.
You can purchase a copy of the book here, with free shipping worldwide!
You can also get the fantastic audiobook here from Audible.