Tuesday, January 18, 2011

CBRIII: Book#4: 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

If you've read any of this blog, you may have seen my reviews of Joe Hill's Horns and Heart-Shaped Box . If so, you already know that I adore Joe Hill and his writing. I believe that he has a real gift for writing and infusing his horror stories with real emotion and relatability. I only learned, or perhaps re-learned, that Hill had his own collection of short stories when the lovely and delightful Julie shared her spoils from Barnes & Noble on Facebook the other day. I immediately reserved it from the library and waited. Luckily, I didn't have to wait long.

When a book has a name like 20th Century Ghosts, you expect a lot of ghost stories and horror. You get a couple of ghosts, some scares, some supernatural, and a lot of excellent writing. The opening story is "Best New Horror". Eddie Carroll is the editor of America's Best New Horror and he has become bored with the predictable and trite submissions for publication. Then one day he receives a letter from English professor Harold Noonan accompanying a short story by a man named Peter Kilrue. The story is "Buttonboy: A Love Story" and it impresses Carroll and sends him on a mission to find the author and publish his story.

"20th Century Ghost" is one that I've read before, one of three actually, but I liked it enough to read it again. It concerns a movie theater and the ghost that has appeared inside it for years. "Pop Art" is the hilarious tale of a childhood friend that was inflatable. It quickly turns to oddly heart-wrenching when we learn of the problems poor Arthur Roth encounters in every day life. "You Will Hear the Locusts Sing" is Kafka-esque and "Abraham's Boys" gives us a glimpse of what it would be like to be Van Helsing's children.

"Better Than Home" is a sweet type of story about a less than normal child. "The Black Phone" is the story of a kidnapping. "In The Rundown" is a creepy tale about being in the wrong place at the right time. "The Cape" is a story of childhood play that turns ugly. "Last Breath" is short and sweet and one of my favorites. A family enters a Museum of Silence and becomes enraptured and unsettled with the prizes on display.

"The Widow's Breakfast" is more about dealing with the ghosts left behind by loved ones than actual ghosts. A train-hopping bum stumbles upon a widow who helps him out. It doesn't sound like much, but all of these stories are so much more than I'm describing. I don't want to ruin them, but I want to give you an idea of the differences of the stories and how they don't fit into any horror mold.

"Bobby Conray Comes Back From The Dead" is another work that I've read before. Bobby runs into a lost love while working as an extra on Dawn of the Dead. "My Father's Mask" is the third story I've enjoyed before and it is the creepiest and most disorienting of the trio. "Voluntary Committal" ends the collection and is the longest of the stories, I think. Nolan's brother Morris has always been different. He may be an idiot-savant with a propensity for building things in their family basement. When Nolan gets into a tight spot, Morris decides to help with his buildings and mazes.

Hill is nice enough to include a bonus story in the Acknowledgments section that is short and to the unsettling point. If you aren't ready to pick up one of Hill's first two novels, this collection would be the starting point. You get a real feel for the abilities of Hill without being required to invest too much in individual characters and their stories. I highly recommend Hill and anything with his name on it that you can get your hands on.


  1. I dug the collection. I really liked "Best New Horror," and "My Father's Mask" was so unnerving and gorgeous I'm almost afraid to read it again.

  2. I just finished this yesterday. "Best New Horror" had me holding my breath, and I loved "Voluntary Committal." I think "Pop Art" was so out there and just lovely-I hope Hill comes out with another set of stories.

  3. I loved "Heart-Shaped Box," but had trouble getting into this. However, I should probably go back and give it another try. It's interesting to me that Hill excels at the short story, since it's also one of his father's strongest suites.