Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Best New Horror: 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill*

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

I reviewed Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box about a year ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it. But 20th Century Ghosts is even creepier, darker, deeper, and better.

Usually I don't gush about collections of short stories -- they make me fidgety and impatient. While I'll give a novel a few chapters to lure me in, if a short story doesn't grab me on the first page, I ditch it. I only ditched one story in this collection, "Pop Art," and it's been so universally praised and singled out in every review I've read that I'm willing to chalk it up to a lapse of judgment on my part.

These stories run the gamut from the titular ghost story to surrealist gore, real life horror, and touching explorations of family relationships, and there are too many standouts in the collection to mention individually without spending all night on it.

My favorites in the collection included "The Black Phone," about a kidnapped boy trying to escape from his captor's basement, and "Last Breath," about a curator of dying breaths, and one family's varied reactions to his strange collection. Appealingly offbeat is "Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead," about two high school sweethearts reunited while working as extras on the set of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead. And the title story, about a small town movie theatre and the ghost girl who selectively visits its patrons, is hauntingly beautiful.

There's not a dud here, and I can't wait to see what Hill does next.
* The post title refers to the lead-off story in the collection, a skin-crawling little ditty reminiscent of that X-Files episode, "Home," as well as to the book's general awesomeness.


Brady said...

I just wanted to chime in real quick here with total agreement on this one. As regards "Pop Art," however, I would side with those other reviewers Mary linked to: it's a corker, one I couldn't decide if I was on board with it for the majority of the story but, upon finishing, decided was a stunning piece of writing.

Also - and let me be clear at the outset by saying this is not a slam on the genre, or genres in general, in favor of elite fiction - the title story the best piece of American Short Fiction I've come across in a while. Like Bradbury on the occasions when he knocked 'em out of the park, or Faulkner when he wasn't being showy.

Brady said...

Also, my utter laziness has just bit me in the fanny, as I just took Mary's word for it that those other reviews singled out "Pop Art," and now I see that I wasn't the only one who thought that Bradbury was a good reference point.

So maybe we are on to something?