20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill (short story collection)
What It’s About: (via Amazon)
Imogene is young, beautiful . . . and dead, waiting in the Rosebud Theater one afternoon in 1945. . . .
Francis was human once, but now he’s an eight-foot-tall locust, and everyone in Calliphora will tremble when they hear him sing. . . .
John is locked in a basement stained with the blood of half a dozen murdered children, and an antique telephone, long since disconnected, rings at night with calls from the dead. . . .
Nolan knows but can never tell what really happened in the summer of ’77, when his idiot savant younger brother built a vast cardboard fort with secret doors leading into other worlds. . . .
The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past. . . .
I absolutely loved this short story collection from Joe Hill. I’ve read several Joe Hill books now & commented on my review for Heart-Shaped Box that, while I’m really enjoying his books, they still weren’t quite living up to his father’s (Stephen King – my favorite author). But I was determined that one day I’d read a Joe Hill book that I really do love. I’d say that 20th Century Ghosts is finally the one!
This collection is fantastic and the very best stories live up to King’s short stories. What was also great was that there were plenty that weren’t even within the horror genre, including some with brilliantly original ideas (such as in the story Pop Art – I’ve never read anything quite like that one). So I’ll review this one in the same way I reviewed his dad’s short story collection The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams – I’ll give a very brief opinion on each story then an overall rating & what my five favorite stories were. So here we go!
My Quick Thoughts On Each Story:
Best New Horror:
Yikes. This one was genuinely disturbing and one for true lovers of “horror”. I was a little worried, as this was the first story, that the rest of them would be as horrific (which wasn’t the case at all). But this is a brilliant piece of writing & one of the stories that I know I’ll remember the most from this collection years from now. Atmospheric & creepy, this story shows that Hill can write very effective horror.
20th Century Ghost:
I ADORED this story. I can tell you right now that this was my favorite but, of course, it was likely to be as it involved something very dear to me: a love of movies. I won’t get into details on the story to avoid spoilers but, as the title may suggest, it’s about a ghost haunting a movie theater. This story is perfect. I loved it so much! And what a relief to read this one, which made my heart happy, after the thoroughly disturbing one that started the book…
Wow. This story is truly brilliant and utterly unique. It’s about a boy named Art. And he may pop. Why? Because he’s inflatable. This is some good shit. How is Joe Hill not a household name after writing this one?? Well, maybe it’s too weird for the mainstream but those who appreciate something a bit left of center may love this one.
You Will Hear The Locust Sing:
Another piece of amazing writing, this is Hill’s ode to Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Not my personal favorite but admittedly one of the better stories in this novel overall.
Again, not a personal favorite of mine but this was an intriguing alternative take on vampire-hunter Van Helsing’s life.
Better Than Home:
This was a beautiful story about a loving father & son relationship. I can’t say I really related to it, especially as there’s a lot of baseball talk (Hill & his father clearly love baseball) but it’s a sweet & not overly-sentimental story I’m sure a lot of people would like.
The Black Phone:
A very King-like story about a kidnapped boy & the mysterious phone in the basement where he’s being kept. Loved the supernatural vibe. Fans of Hill’s dad will like this one.
In The Rundown:
A good story about a late teen/early twentysomething(?) boy beat down by life and about a woman going to desperate measures. But I have to admit I had to grab the book just now to remind me what this one was about so it’s clearly not one that stuck with me.
Definitely one of the strongest stories in the book, I thoroughly enjoyed this story of two brothers and a magic cape that allows one of them to fly. And I loved the turn the story took at the end. Another one that really displays Hill’s storytelling talent.
A very short story but, again, a truly original & unique idea. I’d love to see this one & a few others adapted for some kind of anthology film/TV show. This story would work really well on screen.
This is another one where I just had to refresh my memory. Didn’t take long as it’s only just over one page! A good, weird little story that actually reminds me of a Tales Of The Unexpected episode I saw once involving plants “screaming”. Man I loved that show. I guess it’s a bit like The Happening too, though. Ugh – Sorry! I didn’t mean to compare that movie to Hill’s work. Hill’s work is much better…
The Widow’s Breakfast:
Another lovely story that doesn’t fall at all within the horror genre, this is about a kind widow & a homeless man in the 1930s. I easily remembered this one – I preferred it to the father/son story in Better Than Home. But both are great for non-horror lovers.
Bobby Conroy Comes Back From The Dead:
Joe Hill, you’re truly after my heart with your choices of settings in these stories! First we had the brilliant movie theater ghost story then, with this one, we have a “love story” on the set of George A. Romero’s 1978 Dawn Of The Dead! An all-time favorite film of mine (and by far the best zombie flick ever)!!! Loved this story. Loved it! Hill & I clearly like the same sort of stuff. Other than baseball…
My Father’s Mask:
A bizarre story with a fantastic vibe. Sort of made me think of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut for some strange reason. But, like, a good version of that…
BRILLIANT story! The best in this book (and also my favorite alongside 20th Century Ghost, which has a slight edge for me only because it’s movie-related). I always feel bad comparing Hill to King but, yes, this one is very King-like and King’s fans will love it. It’s my favorite sort of story – one with a supernatural edge and very strong writing. I’d hazard a guess that this story is the favorite of most who read this collection. After this story and the four others I’ve listed below, I’m now indeed a firm fan of Joe Hill’s writing.
A sneaky little story hidden within the Acknowledgments at the end of the book. Maybe I shouldn’t tell you that… It’s meant to be a surprise! Well, don’t miss out on this fun 3-page story – it’s well worth your time. As is this entire book. Fantastic work from Joe Hill! Now I can’t wait to read my new copy of The Fireman.
My Overall Rating For 20th Century Ghosts: 4.5/5
My Top Five Stories (in book appearance order):
– 20th Century Ghost
– Pop Art
– The Cape
– Bobby Conroy Comes Back From The Dead
– Voluntary Committal
**Hope you all have a great weekend and, for those who celebrate it, a very Merry Christmas! I’ll be back next week with a review of my final Blind Spot Movie (Akira), followed by four end-of-year lists of my favorite books & movies this year. I love end-of-year lists!!!! Hope to see all of yours too. 🙂