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20th Century Ghosts Paperback – September 16, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

After the release of Hill's acclaimed novel Heart-Shaped Box, this collection of his short fiction, originally published in Britain two years ago made its way to the United States. Hill, the son of horror master Stephen King, runs a diverse gamut that includes some unapologetic chillers along the lines of the book's title story. Yet the essence of his material could best be described as a hybrid that connects the ironic twists from episodes of The Twilight Zone with the angst and vulnerability of childhood and adolescence. David LeDoux, whose previous audiobook credits include Douglas Coupland's Hey Nostradamus! and Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants, demonstrates an especially keen knack for capturing the cadence of teen and young adult male speech patterns, with equal parts deadpan cool and quivering tension. Hill's novella Voluntary Committal provides a sublime experience of jarring suspense and compelling family drama. Admittedly, a few of the briefer works may leave listeners longing for more fully developed story lines, but Hill consistently manages to evoke emotional responses and provoke unsettling questions, which makes for a worthwhile experience.
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“Alternately sad, scary, strange and at times even sweet, these tales will haunt you long after you’ve read them.” (Parade (a "Parade Pick"))

“[A] lovely, earnest collection of short fiction.” (Village Voice)

“[O]ne of the best [horror] collections of the year. Hill is a relative newcomer who consistently creates creepy, very disturbing stories.” (Locus)

“Each tale is unique, and the collection proves that Hill’s talent is not limited to horror, but extends well into the mainstream.” (Denver Rocky Mountain News)

“[An] inventive collection . . . brave and astute.” (New York Times Book Review (Editor's Choice))

“[A] new take on the fantasy-horror genre...Highly recommended.” (The Sun Herald (Sydney, Australia))

“The selections range from the mundane to the surreal, with a strong emphasis on the kind of horror tale perfected by Ray Bradbury, Peter Straub and Stephen King.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“This solid, inventive, scary collection of stories reveals a writer who has thought hard about the problematics of horror.” (New York Times on 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS)

“Each of these chilling tales arrests you from the opening sentence and leads you — trustingly, thanks to the simple mastery of the story-teller — into a place of gulping fear.” (Daily Mail (London) on 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS)

“Subtle and disturbing in equal measure.” (Coventry Telegraph on 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS)

“Irresistible stories.” (Evening Herald (Ireland))
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061147982
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061147982
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (401 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #98,118 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

The author of the critically acclaimed Heart-Shaped Box and 20th Century Ghosts, Joe Hill is a two-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award, and a past recipient of the Ray Bradbury Fellowship. His stories have appeared in a variety of journals and Year's Best collections. He calls New England home.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

112 of 119 people found the following review helpful By Brian Kaufman on November 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Reading is a collaborative event. When the collaboration is good, the story resonates inside, touching on some emotion or history that the reader brings to the table. The very best stories are fresh and specific, though, so simply tapping into pop culture or tired archetypes won't work as an authorial technique. The story has to touch something deeper. It has to be true.

In bypassing pop clichés, the ending of a truly great story should be a surprise--not because of a trick, but because in telling the truth, the clichés get left behind.

I was three stories deep in Joe Hill's "20th Century Ghosts" before I decided that I was reading the freshest, most surprising, truest speculative fiction I'd read in decades. Each piece in this book is a gem. "Best New Horror" is a formulaic tale about an editor who's tired of formula stories. The last paragraph of the tale takes an exhilarating turn that struck me as poetic--completely reframing the story. "Pop Art" is the most unusual, touching piece of fiction I can remember. The title is a pun, and the story is absurd. How could it leave me in tears? "Better than Home" is an odd father-son love story. What is a story about baseball, uncontrollable saliva, dead bodies under a covered bridge and the joys of throwing peanut shells on the steps doing in a collection of horror tales? Fitting in quite nicely. Every tale here belongs.

Critics often say, "I couldn't put the book down." I put 20th Century Ghosts down a half-dozen times, asking myself, "How could this guy be so damned good?" Do yourself a huge favor. Buy 20th Century Ghosts and "begin collaborating" with this most talented author.
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51 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Armchair Interviews on October 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Joe Hill has received many, many awards. This book was originally published in Britain by PS Publishing in 2005, and it won the British Fantasy Award, The International Horror Guild Award, and the Bram Stoker Award for best collection. He is also a 2006 World Fantasy Award winner, for his novella Voluntary Committal, which appears in the same book. He is the author of Heart Shaped Box. Joe, 35, is the son of authors Stephen King and Tabitha King.

Twentieth Century Ghosts contains 15 of the most severely bizarre and original stories ever conceived. Hill has been influenced by Malamud and Kafka. These tales are the stuff of Twilight Zone, seriously creepy and macabre, full of spectral and often perverse violence. Any parent other than Stephen King might be very concerned.

I think my favorite was "Pop Art," a fable of an inflatable teen, and his best friend, who happens to have a nasty father with a vicious dog. Or maybe it was "Voluntary Committal," where seriously schizophrenic Morris Lerner, builder of elaborate basement cardboard box mazes, helps out his older brother by getting rid of a nasty pal.

"Most of my stories are really that simple. They're built around the collision of the real and the impossible..." from an interview with Joe Hill by Daniel M. Jaffe on the web site Biblio Buffet.

NOTE: Many of the stories feature threatened children. If this sort of thing bothers you, stay away.

Armchair Interviews says: Read this one with the lights on.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By gaimangirl on May 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
So the cat's out of the bag now that Joe Hill is one of Stephen King's sons. Well, no such thing as nepotism here, because this is an absolutely beautiful book--definitely on my list of favorites.

Hill wears his influences and inspirations on his sleeve. "You Will Hear the Locust Sing" is like Kafka's The Metamorphosis set during a 1950's giant bug movie. "Abraham's Boys" is his take on the Van Helsing character from Dracula. "The Cape" is both a realistic character study and a superhero origin story. "20th Century Ghost" is a nostalgic homage to both film history, in general, and Steven Spielberg, in particular.

Yet, none of the stories ever feel derivative or lazy, because Hill always manages to add some new or unexpected twist. Many of the stories are disturbing, some are even shocking, but they also manage to be humorous, warm, and tender. There's authentic emotional depth in these tales. I can't manage to make it through "Pop Art," the absolute masterpiece of the collection, without crying every single time.

The title couldn't be more accurate, because these stories all feature characters that are haunted--haunted by their pasts, by inner demons, by troubled childhoods, and horrible secrets. Identity seems to be the common theme that connects these stories--how do we decide who we are? Is it a gift (or a curse) from our families? Do we decide ourselves who we are? Do we embrace our secret self (You Will Hear the Locust Sing, The Cape), do we run from it (Best New Horror), do we hide from it (Voluntary Committal)? Are we predetermined to become our parents (My Father's Mask)?

Hill displays incredible talent in this book. I can't wait to see what he produces in the future. In the meantime, I highly recommend this one.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By JWH on December 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you are expecting a collection of ghost stories, please reset your expectations, or you will be disappointed. There are a couple of ghost stories, some 1950's style horror stories, some modern horror, some supernatural and some straight fiction. I picked this book up after reading Joe Hill's "Heart Shaped Coffin". I was impressed with the straight-forward writing style used in that book, and I wanted to see some of his earlier work. I wasn't disappointed.

The short story titled "20th Century Ghost" is a very good ghost story whereas "Best New Horror" was a very good modern horror story. These two stories were my favorites with "Voluntary Commitment", "Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead", "The Black Phone", and "The Widow's Breakfast" not far behind. If you are looking for an enjoyable collection of short stories with a mix of topics, try this book.
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