Mark's Reviews > 20th Century Ghosts

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill
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May 04, 08

bookshelves: recentlyread
Read in April, 2008

An amazing first collection of short stories, every one of them fresh and surprising (though I confess I’m not all that well-versed in horror and suspense, and read very little new short fiction, compared, say, to my better half). But the title and author (son of Stephen King) are misleading: only a few of these stories should be called “horror stories.” In fact, the first story, “Best New Horror,” slyly laughs at the genre and its writers, telling the tale of the jaded editor of a horror magazine who “felt weak at the thought of reading another story about vampires having sex with other vampires. He tried to struggle through Lovecraft pastiches, but at the first painfully serious reference to the Elder Gods, he felt some important part of him going numb inside.” When the editor discovers a story that actually shocks him, he goes to great lengths to track down the author, with predictable and parodic consequences. Many of the stories are about the tribulations of kids and might appear the freshman efforts of a young writer exorcising adolescent demons. But they’re sophisticatedly different, moving studies or parodies all. You might even detect some Oedipal fun, especially in stories like “You Will Hear the Locust Sing,” a revisiting of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” or “Abraham’s Boys,” a startling new take on Dracula (Abraham being Professor Van Helsing). A little revenge on Dad, the king of horror? But then the following story, “Better Than Home,” is a powerful story of father-son love (though a very quirky pair they are) and of baseball (a passion I’m guessing King and Hill share). Not all of the stories are equally superb—there are a couple of puzzlers—but all are memorable. The near-title story, “20th Century Ghost,” about an old movie theatre, and the final story, a 50-page piece called “Voluntary Committal,” about a mentally ill/brilliant boy, are each on their own worth the price of admission.


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