Friday, October 21, 2011

Review: 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

20th Century Ghosts
Joe Hill
Published by William Morrow & Company
Publication date: October 1, 2007



I hadn't heard of Joe Hill before last year.  Someone recommended his novel Horns to me and I read it over a long business trip.  It was pretty good and maybe I'll review it here sometime, but what really struck me about Horns was how original it was.

Horror is such a weird genre.  It's the home of the Gothic Novel, of H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King.  Horror is also where A Nightmare on Elm Street and the Saw film franchises live.  Horror is Rob Zombie and other misfits.  At least for me, Horror represents a kind of literary ghetto.

I guess most genre fiction feels that way to me.  I went on a science fiction binge at the beginning of the year and I've read my fair share of fantasy and I always have this feeling of sheepishness about it.  Like I have to apologize to my book nerd buddies.  Like I've been listening to (god-forbid) Nickleback or something.

I'm not going to come out here and say that Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts is some kind of literary masterpiece or that by reading it you'll feel that it transcends genre boundaries and restrictions.  I will, however, say that it's very good and that it tries to do some new and interesting things.  Some of it feels very much like a first effort, like Hill is trying on a few different skins and testing them to see how they fit.

The stories are extremely varied and really run the gamut of story telling.  The opening story, "Best New Horror" plays with the topics of publishing and the search for something new in literature and then throws in an (expected, but still wonderful) Texas Chainsaw Massacre bomb.

There are a lot of good and great stories in this collection, but my absolute favorite was one that seemed out of place with the rest.  "Pop Art" is about a kid and his best friend.  The thing is, this best friend is a completely alive, inflatable boy who lives in fear of sharp things and long exposure to heat.  It's a wonderful story, full of heart and completely weird.

Other favorite stories included "The Cape", "My Father's Mask" and "Last Breath".  I feel compelled to mention that I don't think I really understood "My Father's Mask", but there's a lot going on in that story and it deserves repeat readings.

I haven't enjoyed a short story collection this much in a very long time.  Joe Hill has written two novels, Heart-Shaped Box, and Horns.  I've read Horns and about half of Heart-Shaped Box and both are good in their own way, but this is probably my favorite.

Rating: 8/10 

Book Source: purchased

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