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20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill
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Feb 05, 09


20th CENTURY GHOSTS by Joe Hill
Review by Nickolas Cook
05/18/06

In the life of a reader, short story collections that gestalt so immediately, resonate so deeply, are a rarity. Joe Hill’s “20th Century Ghosts” is one of those exceptional books.
I haven’t been so moved by a chain of stories since my wonder years of discovering Ray Bradbury’s poetic prose. There were times that I had to place the book aside to examine my reaction to its latest offering. And that is the power of this man’s voice. He can be so subtle that his fears creep up on you and become your own fears; his emotions become your mirror.
Hill is steeped in the genre, to the extent of giving a knowing wink or two to the initiated (the scene in “Pop Art” with the dog and the station wagon, for instance), but never at the cost of pandering or posing. In fact, most of the stories included in “20th Century Ghosts” transcend the genre in such a way as to break down the walls that, at times, hold horror too close to itself. He does not allow style to play first fiddle to the simple act of telling the story, as he displays a basic love for the tale and not the words. Yet they are heart wrenching, nonetheless. His prose is a buried richness that makes his words jump from the page.
And for the writers in the crowd, this may be some of the most impeccable editing I’ve seen in a long time. Every word matters in terms of the story, not the style.
The highpoints of the collection?
“Best New Horror”, the leadoff tale of a jaded horror anthology editor (I was thinking Stephen Jones the whole time) who finds the perfect story, and becomes obsessed with tracking down its mysterious author, only to find that all of those horror clichés he’s despised for so many years have come around to bite him in the arse.
“Pop Art”, an absurdest piece about a balloon boy befriended by a flesh and blood underdog. It’s a tearjerker from start to finish and I have so rarely been so glad to have my emotions manipulated.
“Abraham’s Boys” is a truly disturbing take on the Van Helsing/Dracula mythos that examines the dissolution of father and sons.
“Voluntary Committal” will stick with me for years. Enough said.
“You Will Hear the Locust Sing” is one of the subtlest post-Columbine stories I’ve ever read. When the violence comes, it’s shocking and numbing at the same time.
“My Father’s Mask” is haunting and chilling in its unspoken perversity and terror. I defy anyone to read it and not get a chill as the final paragraph unfolds.
I’ll stop there. Although I could hit on every story, I think it best to read them for yourselves and live inside this man’s world of words. I will add that every story is about some relationship- good or bad- that illuminates how we interact with those who we love and love us. There is nothing simple about this book, and anyone who comes to it for easy entertainment will walk away with more than he/she bargained for.
One last note: Christopher Golden’s introduction may be one of the most accurate introductions I’ve read in years for an author’s short story collection (much like John D. MacDonald’s introduction for King’s first short story collection), in terms of awe and respect for Hill’s work. I imagine he was much like myself after having read “20th Century Ghosts”- in a daze and examining my own words for this transient beauty. I am in awe. And that is a rare thing these days in this genre.
This has only been released in a U.K. edition, by P.S. Publishing (see Shocklines for details on different available limited editions http://search.store.yahoo.com/cgi-bin... ). Joe Hill’s next book, a novel, “Heart Shaped Box” will be released early 2007.

Nickolas Cook
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