December 14, 2009
20th Century Ghosts
20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill
Fiction - Horror (short stories)
2007 William Morrow
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
Imogene is young, beautiful, kisses like a movie star, and knows everything about every film ever made. She’s also dead, the legendary ghost of the Rosebud theater, and one afternoon in 1945, a boy named Alec Sheldon will have an unforgettable encounter with her... in the dark...
Arthur Roth is a lonely kid with a head full of big ideas and a gift for getting his ass kicked. It’s hard to make friends when you’re the only inflatable boy in town...
Francis is unhappy. Francis is picked on. Francis doesn’t have a life, a hope, a chance. Francis was human once, but that’s behind him now. Francis is an eight-foot tall locust, and all of Calliphora, Nevada will shudder to hear him sing...
John Finney is in trouble. The kidnapper locked him in a basement, a place stained with the blood of half a dozen other murdered children. With him, in his subterranean cell, is an antique phone, long since disconnected... but it rings at night, anyway, with calls from the dead...
Eric is a twentysomething burnout, who just lost a girlfriend and a job. Once, though, he was the Red Bolt, and with his home-made cape he could fly. Now the cape is back in his hands, and Eric’s future is looking up... and up...
Nolan Lerner is guilty. His past is a thing choked with secrets, blood – and sunflowers. Only Nolan can tell the story of what really happened one summer in 1977, when his younger brother, an idiot savant named Morris, built a vast cardboard fort, with secret doors inside, doors leading into other worlds...
Like Morris Lerner’s impossible cardboard fortress, 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS is big enough to get lost in, a maze filled with exits into a vast country of the surreal. Showcasing an assortment of dazzling ideas, GHOSTS is irresistible, addictive fun.
I haven't read many short story collections (Alice Munro and Eudora Welty are the only two authors who come to mind), but I've always said I don't care for short stories. Those that I've read all seem to blend together and are quickly forgotten. I also dislike the feeling of finally getting to know the characters and their situations, only to have the story end abruptly. But Joe Hill has converted me, at least as far as his short fiction is concerned. I loved everything about 20th Century Ghosts! I savored each and every story over the course of 6 weeks (perhaps that's the key!) and found myself thinking about the characters and plots long after closing the book. I especially liked that the stories weren't all super scary and that some were a bit reminiscent of The Twilight Zone, without freaking me out so much that I had to sleep with a light on.
Until I became a blogger, I never used to read book reviews. I still don't read published reviews in newspapers or magazines, but obviously as a blogger, I do read reviews by my peers. "A masterful storyteller" has become the ubiquitous descriptor for authors of broad abilities. I am guilty of littering my reviews with this cliche myself. And yet, Joe Hill truly is a master of his craft. Much like a camp counselor sitting around a campfire with a bunch of scared little kids, he sets the scene, establishes the characters and ever so slowly and gently leads his audience down a path full of twists and turns and dark shadows, never losing them along the way, and often times pushing them faster and faster toward their ultimate destination and climax. No detail is wasted. No line of dialogue unnecessary. Each sentence a polished gem.
I think the basis for my enjoyment of this collection was that each story was so utterly unique. There were some that were creepy and surreal and others that were very subtle--even tender and sweet. I can glance through the table of contents and remember each and every story. I can remember which ones made my heart race and which made me shudder. This is one of those books I'll enjoy picking up again in years to come, if only to re-read one or two stories at a time. And now that I've come to realize that this is a genre I do enjoy, I'll have to give Hill's father's short story collections a chance. I hear he's also pretty talented. ;) Any recommendations?
Further praise from a fellow blogger:
Bookfool writes: 20th Century Ghosts is an anthology of short stories and they are wildly disparate--some literary, some magical, two with ghosts, at least one so scary I had to set the book down for a few days. While there were a few that left me with the feeling, "What was the point of that?", the vast majority were engrossing and it was the moments of truth, the powerfully straightforward language, the absolute believability of his characters and the stunning creativity that set Hill's writing apart. There is seldom a feeling of stepping outside the pages--that "Oops, he lost me," moment when the reader realizes s/he has lost the ability to suspend disbelief. In fact, I kept having to remind myself, "It's not real; it's just fiction." That is a pretty strong recommendation, in and of itself.
I can hardly wait to get my paws on Joe Hill's up-and-coming new release, Horns, due out on February 16th. From what I've read, it's even better than his debut novel, Heart-Shaped Box. Oh, boy!