Joe Hill

Following my experience with Joe Hill’s outstanding NOS4A2, I have been considering the relationship of Hill’s writing to his father’s.

Joe Hill

Joe Hill

A little background: as we all know by now, Joe Hillstrom King is the oldest son of Stephen King. Those being prodigiously large shoes to fill, he began his career as a novelist using Joe Hill as his pen name, not wanting to be associated with Dad – one can imagine the admiration or scrutiny that might have brought. More to the point, I imagine he would have been unable to fully appreciate any success gained as Stephen King’s son, unsure if he could take full credit for it. However, a few books in, it appears he’s now confident in his own career and independence; he “came out” as King’s son in 2007, partly because his public was getting suspicious. (He does awfully resemble his father.) I sympathize with Hill’s need to separate himself early in his career.

Stephen King

Stephen King

[As an aside, I sympathize still more with novelist Kelly Braffet, a lifelong King fan who has ended up his daughter-in-law. As I learned in that article that I recently shared with you, she began her relationship with King’s second son Owen terrified of speaking to her hero. This would indeed be terrifying – I can only imagine! I mean, if I were to date the son of a still-living Hemingway, at least I could rely on the fact that Hem is a bully and a blusterer, which I know how to handle; but King is apparently just a terrifically nice guy. And that’s so much scarier! Speaking of which, I loved the world’s strongest librarian‘s recent blog post about meeting Stephen King.]

I respect Hill’s decision to hide his family background early on, and I respect his decision to stop hiding it. But I wonder what effect my knowledge has had on my reading of his work, because here’s the thing: NOS4A2 has a hell of a lot of Stephen King in it. I mean this in the best possible way – I love King, and I love NOS4A2. buick8

For one thing, there are plot points: a car with a will of its own is straight out of the very first Stephen King novel I ever read, From a Buick 8. A bicycle that takes its rider otherworldly places played a central role in Stationary Bike. I don’t mean to call Hill statbikederivative – he’s not – but it’s interesting to see these parallels, and it makes me wonder: if your father was Stephen King, would you consciously pull from his novels? Unconsciously? That would seem to be unavoidable.

Stylistically, too, I recognized a King-like realism and heightened awareness of pop culture and strongly recognizable settings; mixed with expert worldbuilding, the result felt inextricably related (no pun intended) to King’s strongest work. But that suggests a question, too. Would I have made these comparisons and found these similarities if I hadn’t known about the familial connection between the two authors? And that question is really the point of this blog post. I feel confident that I would have seen these connections, because they appear so striking. But we’ll never know, because I didn’t get to go into this reading blind. For that matter, I picked this book up because of the Hill’s relationship to King. And the point of that statement is that Joe Hill was so very right to begin his career under cloak of pseudonym. Now, though, it needn’t matter, because he’s a kick-ass author in his own right. Bring on Heart-Shaped Box.

At the end of the audio version of NOS4A2 that I listened to, there was included an author interview with Joe Hill. (That is, there are no questions, just Hill speaking, but it reads like an interview; I imagine the questions were asked off-stage.) This was an enjoyable way to hear him in his own voice, and I loved some of what he had to say about audiobooks in particular. He cites Harold Bloom, eminent literary critic, saying that audio is simply not the same – is not “literature” – and that listening is not reading (well, duh). Hill refutes this idea, pointing out that listening to literature is yes, different, but is its own important thing. He uses as an example a certain blind author of noted “literature”; I would also point out Homer, who was both blind and pre-written-history, who lived back when the oral tradition was the only way to share stories. At any rate, Hill’s celebration of audiobooks was nice to hear. (And unsurprising, considering his upbringing.)

Finally, in the same interview/monologue, Hill says that “imagination is as powerful as physical law.” I want to leave you with that: a very apt point from Hill, as an author and as a product of the King household.

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