Monday, January 5, 2015

Beautiful confusion

After reading Horns I got interested in reading more of Joe Hill's work. The book was upsetting and charming and a haunting and original take on the old man-or-monster trope. 20th Century Ghosts is a collection of short fiction that is full of much of the same appeal - originality, charm, horror, and good old down-home nastiness. I was shocked by how much this book pleased me, by the way it courts the reader into rolling their eyes one moment and then gasping in surprise the next. The stories here are heady and whole and I desperately want there to be more. Thankfully I've got another Hill book to follow up with that I'll probably get to next week. Until then, here's a look at the sorts of stories he tells:

"Best New Horror" is creepy and gross and seems to stink off the pages, horrifying you by talking about horror and sharing stories without telling them.

"20th Century Ghost" isn't really a ghost story, it's a love story about a dead girl who wanted to know what happened next. There's no shock, no screamer moment, just a gradual movement to what you know is right.

"Pop Art" made me cry and confused the hell out of me and got me to completely buy in to the absurd concept at the heart of the story. It's a lovely, sad little tale about breakable people and strong friendships. It also, shockingly, made me tolerate Comic Sans for a few pages - something I'd never have predicted.

"You will hear the locust sing" was brutally shocking. Like Kafka if Kafka had a much meaner sense of humor and grew up with greasers. Derivative of two shockingly different genres and delightfully rough-and-tumble.

"Abraham's Boys" was spooky and gloomy and rich with atmosphere. The story seemed to be a bit of a stretch but the frame it was stretched around was lovely.

"Better than Home" is fucked up and sad and confusing and messy - it's wonderful, and a lovely portrait of a somewhat unusual father-son relationship.

"The Black Phone" reminds me of a horror story turned on its head, where the ghosts aren't the things to be afraid of, where you might want to join their ranks. It's a lot like Horns in its treatment of the supernatural, but written for a different audience in a different voice.

"In the Rundown" overflows with tension and frustration and is maddeningly tantalizing. I'm so frustrated that there isn't more to this story but I wouldn't want more because that would ruin it.

"The Cape" is perfect and grim. It's a story that I've wanted to read for years, never knowing that I wanted it.

"Last Breath" seemed less realized than some of the other stories, but I'm pretty sure the spareness is intentional and the hush rushing through the pages is supposed to be the most haunting part.

"The Widow's Breakfast" is one of those "one of these things is not like the others" stories - it doesn't fit in the collection but makes itself at home and at hope nonetheless. It's a nice, if tragic, break in the onslaught of the wonderful and weird.

"Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead" is a snapshot of the lives of extras and humans wounded by their own dreams and egos. It's sweet and simple.

I don't understand at all what's going on in "My Father's Mask" but I like it. It's full of strange colors and jagged dreams and leaves a bitter grime behind.

Holy shit. "Voluntary Committal" is make-believe mixed uneasily with fire. It hurt my brain and sped up my pulse and gave me nightmares. It is fantastic.

     - Alli

Hill, Joe. 20th Century Ghosts. William Morrow. New York: New York. 2008. (2005).

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