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20th Century Ghosts Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 16, 2007
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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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
“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))
Top customer reviews
Even the stories in this collection that don't aim to deliver more than a plot twist and a good scare are polished gems. And some pieces qualify as priceless masterpieces.
"Best New Horror" asks the question, who's weirder: horror writers, horror readers, or the horror editors who bring the two together? Hill employs nice story-within-a-story framing techniques is this modern take on the classic EC-style horror tale.
"20th Century Ghosts" is the only traditional ghost story in this collection. It's an effective ode to old movie houses and the people who love -- and haunt -- them.
"Better Than Home" and "Voluntary Committal" both deal with living with -- and loving -- people with mental disabilities. Hill demonstrates the challenges and mysteries of such relationships beautifully in this passage from "Voluntary Committal."
"At times, my brother made me think of one of those tapered, horned conch shells, with a glossy pink interior curving away and out of sight into some tightly wound inner mystery."
Great writers make it look easy, and Hill is no exception. Saying he has "a way with words," is a massive understatement. Saying, "Hill has his way with words" is more accurate. He bends them to his will, and makes them do his bidding in tales like "The Cape" and "Last Breath." These tales flow so naturally, it's easy to overlook the skill required to create them.
The best writing crafts words to convey great ideas. This is demonstrated in "Pop Art," another tale about loving a disabled person. In this case, the affliction is, well ... inflatibility.
The narrator's childhood friend is an blow-up boy named Art. ("Pop Art" ... because he's, like, a balloon. Get it?) It's an absurd joke, (see SpongeBob SquarePants' "Bubble Buddy" episode for another brilliant take on the same concept) except Hill renders it so poignantly, it becomes a masterful mediation on life, death, and life after death.
Art dreams of being an astronaut, traveling to worlds beyond this one, then realizes everyone gets the chance to live this dream with death's ultimate release.
"You get an astronaut's life whether you want it or not. Leave it all behind for a world you know nothing about. That's just the deal."
Art possesses a Zen-like serenity that eludes the narrator, a boy who is all too familiar with the world's harsh cruelties. When Art tells him an angry dog named "Happy" would be more pleasant if it wasn't penned up, the narrator disagrees.
"It is my belief that, as a rule, creatures of Happy's ilk -- I am thinking here of canines and men both -- more often run free than live caged, and it is in fact a world of mud and feces they desire, a world with no Art in it, or anyone like him, a place where there is no talk of books or God or the worlds beyond this world, a place where the only communication is the hysterical barking of starving and hate-filled dogs."
Hill hits it on the head, and out of the park with this description of life in a world of cruel, artless dunderheads.
If pressed to find a flaw in 20th Century Ghosts, my only critique would be too many of the stories use a child protagonist, which is a kind of writer's crutch. Casting a kid as a hero can be a cheap literary trick because:
It allows you to dumb down your story, seeing things through "the eyes if a child."
It gives your characters a reason to do stupid things, because, "they're just kids!"
It hijacks the reader's own childhood memories, imbuing the kid characters with an intimacy and nostalgia the writer didn't earn.
Admittedly, this is more of a personal writing peeve than a criticism. Hill writes amazing stories. His ideas are fresh, and his characters are honest, engaging, and human no matter what their age.
Maybe it's uncool to say, but Joe Hill has big shoes to fill -- his father is Stephen King, after all. One of the reasons he writes under the name Joe Hill is because doesn't want his work compared to his Dad's, and to dispel any belief he was given a publishing contract because of his family heritage.
Joe Hill needn't worry. He might be following in his old man's footsteps, but he's wearing snowshoes, and leaving pretty impressive tracks of his own.
Joe Hill knows, breathes and lives for his chosen genre of horror fiction fantasy. This collection of his short stories gravitate to, and swirl around the macabe. Our imaginations fill with the unsaid, the unwritten and stuff the cracks with an even meatier substance.
Steve Greenberg saw Imogene Gilchrist in the Rosebud Theater when he was twelve. He became obsessed. Alec Sheldon knew that if the Rosebud closed down, the dead lady would fade away, a gossemer wisp strip, into oblivion.
These are just two tales of many in this, walk into the night terrors, and day sweats, of Joe Hill's imagination. The author is a master story teller who gives credit to his mother, Tabitha King, for instilling the love of words and their connotations into his formative years. I will certainly look for more. I have read S.K. and T.K over the years. Now, I will also enjoy spine tingles from Joe Hill.