Wednesday, September 19, 2007

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill (Morrow, October 2007)

A while back I picked up an advance copy of Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box and I got about half-way through before circumstances and other reading commitments made me put it down. I didn't get back to it; wasn't wowed enough (in all fairness, I can't make a final comment on the book without giving it a proper chance).

Months went by and I spied this nondescript black advanced copy sitting amongst the others. A double-take and I realized it was Joe Hill's short story collection. I'd heard about it a while back, during it's original release, in the U.K. by the venerable PS Publishing. But owing to the scarcity of PS Pub.'s editions in the U.S. I couldn't get it. I was curious, still; remembered a certain spark from reading the novel and thought that giving Hill's short stories a spin wouldn't hurt, right?

I read the introduction by Christopher Golden and, not sure where to begin, I went with his suggestion, "Pop Art", which Golden said was one of the best short stories he had read in years....

And he was right.
Man, "Pop Art" is sensational. Here is a perfect example of the true power of the short fiction medium; if this story were an explosive, it would be a fifth of Nitroglycerin. A profound study of adolescence and loss, friendships and growing up; beautiful, concise, not a word wasted.
The whole collection is strong. What Hill does so well is manipulate the various forms of 'horror'; the existential, the grotesque, and the sublime.

Some stories are just plainly 'stories', about life, like "Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead"; the title being about the only horrific thing about the tale, which takes place on the set of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead. And "Better than Home", a hilarious and moving take on parental love and baseball fandom.

Some are graceful, perfectly balanced fantasies, like the title story "20th Century Ghosts"; a love story and love-letter to that magic alchemy that happens between a viewer and the film they are watching.

Some are mean, in that psychological, 'man-that's-fucked-up' sense as in "In the Rundown", about a delinquent teen bubbling with anger at his close-minded small town.

And some are truly, truly disturbing, downright-yes-horrific. I'm not that into horror, feeling that much of the genre revels in the spectacle, the blood-splatter body-count. But Hill shows how real horror is done, the mixture of fear, the dread behind every half-closed door, the throat-gripping moment when a strange sound comes from behind some bushes...

And honestly, "Best New Horror" is so clever, so terrifying, and fun: see how expertly Hill manages to create a literary critique of the genre he's writing in AND scare the pants off of the reader for good measure.

I leave you with a quote from of Golden's introduction, something that helps define Joe Hill's rare talent; Hill needs to be read by people outside of the horror genre--not to legitimize his writing, but people will be simply missing out on one of the most accomplished writers of his (my) generation:
"At his best, Hill calls upon the reader to complete a scene, to provide the emotional response necessary for the story to truly be successful. And he elicits that response masterfully. These are collaborative stories that seem to exist only as the reader discovers them. They require your complicity to accomplish...Far to many writers seem to think there's no place in horror for genuine sentiment, substituting stock emotional response that has no more resonance than stage directions in a script. Not so in the work of Joe Hill."

1 comment:

Janet Brown said...

Some GOOD writing here--you and Sarah are going to bring me back again and again--you're now on my favorites list. Thanks!