Here's a controversial opinion - one that could see my licence to talk about Horror Fiction get revoked. I enjoy Joe Hill's work more than that of his father. This would not be shocking, save for the fact that said father is Stephen King. Now, I do enjoy some of King's work - "Carrie" is phenomenal, and "Misery" genuinely had my heart pounding. But Joe Hill's work is steeped in a pathos that goes beyond the genre setting of most of his writing. His novel "Horns" is one of my favourite novels ever, and that is a deeply, deeply sad book, underneath all the demonic powers, snakes and pitchforks - and today's story, "Pop Art", is, quite frankly, one of the most beautiful short stories I've ever read.
The narrator of the story is a young boy - an outcast at school, hurting from the abandonment of his mother, left alone with his angry, bitter father. His only real friend is Art. Art is inflatable. I don't mean is isn't alive - he is. Art has a condition which means his body is made of plastic and air. This is never explained in the story - apart from that Art, and people like him, are born that way. We don't need any more than that. It's strange how easily you accept the bizarre if the story around it is well written.
Partially because he is so outwardly different, and partially because Art is a sensitive, intelligent boy in a town that doesn't understand him, Art is mercilessly bullied at school, and openly loathed by his friend's father. The boys form a strong bond - having long conversations about Death intertwined with laddish jokes about Art's mother being a hottie - and cling to each other to survive growing up in a place where the vicious seem to thrive.
Also, I can say truthfully, he was the most completely harmless person I’ve ever known. Not only would he not hurt a fly, he couldn’t hurt a fly. If he slapped one, and lifted his hand, it would buzz off undisturbed. He was like a holy person in a Bible story, someone who can heal the ripped and infected parts of you with a laying-on of hands. You know how Bible stories go. That kind of person, they’re never around long. Losers and jerks put nails in them and watch the air run out.
I won't give away the ending. The point of these posts is to pique your interest enough for you to seek out these stories yourself. But the whole story is so strange, so well written and so quietly tragic, that you'll find yourself thinking about the plight of an inflatable boy long after you close the book. "Pop Art" is available in Hill's collection "20th Century Ghosts", which is filled with brilliant, weird, funny, wistful fiction - 90% of which is horror-based. "Pop Art" itself is also available on Kindle, if you fancy giving Hill a try before committing to a collection. I've also just found a short film version on Youtube.
A small side story; I pre-ordered Joe Hill's newest book, The Fireman, but couldn't be at Newcastle Waterstones on the day he was there, because life happened. I was so annoyed that I couldn't get my book signed. When I finally got my copy, I opened it up to find this. Absolutely made my day. Thank you, Joe, if you happen to read this!
Musings on my life as a writer.