Thumbprint: A Story

Thumbprint: A Story - Joe Hill Wow...I'm really torn and speechless on this one. I love Joe Hill. I've never read anything he's written that I didn't absolutely admire and adore, both for the wordsmith and creativity.

Until now.

I've purposely refused to read anything about this story prior to reading it, I wanted it to be a fresh experience. I'm guessing that this was a story written early in Hill's career, republished now. I remember seeing different cover art somewhere, I think.

It's not a horror story; moreso a military-themed character tale.

As I sit here pondering what I just read, it's hard for me to objectively distinguish whether I didn't really care a lot for the story itself, or if I simply had a hard time enjoying the story because of the unrelentingly hateful way it portrayed American soldiers. I have many friends in the military, friends who served in Baghdad during the time period described in this story; I have friends serving in the middle east right now; let me just say - I have never known anyone in the military who even vaguely resembles the soldiers presented in this story.

Of course the Army has had soldiers commit atrocities during the war, that fact is not disputable. But in this story Joe Hill paints pretty much the entire Army as nothing but barbarian, out-of-control animals savaging every native they come across with impugnity. If he had presented even one or two reasonable soldiers it would have made this tale more realistic and easier to swallow. As it is, his presentation of the Army is just so at odds with reality as to make it seem like the story is unfolding in an alternate universe.

But that might just be my own bias getting in the way, so let me try to judge the story on it's own merits. I did enjoy the overall experience, the story took me places, and was well-written and flowing, vivid and descriptive. The style of writing was much different than the prose found in 20th CENTURY GHOSTS; much more to the point and straightforward, without much flourish. Perhaps that was an artistic decision, given the military nature of the main character, perhaps Hill wanted to write the story in the same type of direct, stacatto language he imagined an army vet would use.

The ending felt a bit premature and sudden, and I turned the final page back and forth unsure of whether the story had just ended or if I had accidentally skipped a page; but short stories would be novels if they didn't end sooner, so overall I was satisfied with the conclusion - since honestly I think everyone would predict the same ultimate ending had it gone on for more pages.

Overall, I thought that this was a solidly written, if not overly exceptional story; definitely not horror, and a tale I would have personally enjoyed more if I didn't think the overall point of it was that American soldiers are monsters. I really, really wanted this review to be different, wanted to fall in love with this story. As it is, I respect it - but also respectfully disagree.