What to say? What to say?
I want to give you fair warning. This review is probably going to be all over the place. I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum but I may include some minor details about the storyline.
Joe Hill is slowly morphing into his father. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but I will admit that I miss the type of writing found in Horns and Heart Shaped Box. We saw this evolution really begin with Nos4a2 and, now, The Fireman is Joe’s The Stand. There, I said it. When I first started reading I was excited. After all, The Stand is one of my two favorite books by King. Along the way, though, I lost some of my excitement and became disappointed. If I picked this book up without the author being listed, I would have probably thought this was a King. After all, who else but King would use the phrase “forgot the face of his father” and references to the song Hey Jude multiple times in a novel? But…this would be a King that is a little full of itself. And that brings me to my next point.
Authors give of themselves when they write a book. Some more than others. Joe Hill is pretty vocal about his social and political beliefs in real life. And, when you read his books, those beliefs do come through the pages. I have no issue with that. However, as a reader, I am looking for an escape. The Fireman allowed me escape for portions of the story. In other passages, Hill was a little too direct with his commentary. For example, he writes about Fox being broadcast for conservatives, MSNBC for liberals and CNN in the middle. Yeah, honestly, most people probably agree with that. But, I hear enough of that in real life and on Facebook. I don’t want political specifics in a fiction novel. He also brings up politicians (like Donald Trump, Barack Obama, etc.). Whether I agree with a writer’s politics or not, I just don’t want to be preached to when I’ve paid good money for entertainment. This felt preachy. It’s also worth noting that I was checking Twitter yesterday during a break from reading and saw this from Hill: “The Fireman is a non-preachy work of fiction. But a world riddled with uncontrolled fires is all too possible.” Agree with him on the possibility of uncontrolled fires but The Fireman did feel a little preachy. Strange that he felt the need to phrase it that way when I was feeling the exact opposite while reading.
Lastly, a subject I’ve touched on in the past is male writers and female protagonists. The main character of The Fireman is Harper Grayson, a nurse who is stuck in the middle of this epidemic. Ok…deep breath…I felt that Hill tried a little too hard with Harper. I give him credit for attempting a strong willed heroine who doesn’t give up through horrible odds. But, well, I felt that she became a Mary Sue. She’s too nice, too perfect, too TOO. She does things physically at 9-months pregnant (and, frankly, all through her pregnancy) that will raise eyebrows. All while not complaining about swollen feet, constipation and all the other things that affect women while pregnant. The only real acknowledgement is her increased appetite and the false contractions she has late in the pregnancy. When the group she is with needs a leader she is voted in despite her age, advanced pregnancy and lack of experience. (Now, fellow women, don’t get angry…I’m not saying pregnant women can’t be good leaders. Not at all! But, if you are 8-months pregnant and we are talking about something that may potentially require certain physical activity, the decision is questionable. And how is she going to lead them away if she gives birth right before or as they are leaving. The fact is that there were better options in this instance.)
I also tired of all the pop culture references. It’s not worth spending a lot of time on but I’m not convinced that Harper’s age jives with her tastes in music, etc. And, her obsession with Mary Poppins was annoying to say the least.
Now, reading this over, it really sounds like I hated this book. But I didn’t. In a lot of ways, it’s one of the best books I read all year. The story itself is EXCEPTIONAL. I wish it could have been better for me but it wasn’t. That’s life. I still love Joe Hill and his books. Will I read the next novel he publishes? You betcha.