20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill (Book Review)

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. . . .

My Thoughts:

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…

Pop Art:

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.

Abraham’s Boys:

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.

The Cape:

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.

Last Breath:

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.

Dead-Wood:

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…

Voluntary Committal:

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.

Scheherazade’s Typewriter:

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. πŸ™‚

The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams by Stephen King (Book Review)Β 

The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

I absolutely love Stephen King’s short story collections. The very first thing I ever read of King’s was Night Shift when I was in Junior High and it blew me away. I went from reading YA Christopher Pike books straight to Stephen King thanks to Night Shift turning me into a huge fan. My first proper “grown-up” book! It’s funny how memory works – I remember every single story in Night Shift as if I only read it yesterday (I only read the book that one time well over 20 years ago) whereas I struggle to remember the short stories in his collections from recent years.

I do think Night Shift happened to be a fantastic book and maybe it was a little better than collections from recent years but I can’t say for sure – I do just have a scarily weird memory for things from my youth but can’t even remember what I had for supper last night. Ah, old age sucks! (Oh yeah – it was a burger…)

I did really enjoy The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams (as I do all of his short story collections). I read it a while ago so I better write a little something about the stories now as my memory is already getting hazy. I do think it had some stronger stories than his previous few collections.

My Quick Thoughts On Each Story:

Mile 81:

Not my favorite in the book but a fun read and SO very “King”. What is it with him & murderous vehicles? Some of this collection consists of previously published material so I didn’t have to re-read this one as it’s the first thing I read on my brand new Kindle years ago when I still knew how to use that thing. Old age, again! I should see if I can figure out how to even turn it on again. Speaking of Kindles, Ur was one of my favorite stories in this book. I’ll talk about that later (I’ll do these in the order they appear in the book).

Premium Harmony:

This story wasn’t a favorite but it’s one of those that has that special way of sticking in my mind that I only really get with King’s writing style & it’s why I’m such a big fan. It’s not a horror story & he’s written it after reading a lot of books from another author (Raymond Carver, an author I don’t know) and King says it has a Carver feel to it. Oh – there’s a King intro to each story, by the way. I really like when he does those.

Batman And Robin Have An Altercation:

I found this to be a pretty heartbreaking story about a son & his elderly father (with Alzheimer’s?). As always, King writes such rich characters, even in his short stories.

The Dune:

One of my favorites in the collection, this very short story deals with a tiny island where prophetic messages appear in the sand. King writes excellent stories even when he steps outside the horror genre but my favorites will always be the ones that contain anything supernatural.

Bad Little Kid:

That little kid was creepy as hell. This was a fun story – I think it would make a good adaptation to screen somehow. I really wish they’d do more of his short stories as TV adaptations, like they did with Nightmares & Dreamscapes.

A Death:

I couldn’t remember this one & had to refresh my memory by skimming it just now. I didn’t like this one, but I suppose I liked the ending which has somewhat of a twist.

The Bone Church:

I wasn’t a fan of this either, which was written in the style of a poem. I think. I’ve never been into poetry at all. I suppose that means I have no class. Can anyone tell me how “There once was a man from Nantucket” ends, though?? I’ve always wanted to know that.

Morality:

A weird story with people who are pretty hard to like. But I suppose that’s the entire point. Again, not a favorite & I found it a bit too long.

Afterlife:

I had to refresh my memory on this one as well, although it was a good story. One with a great idea behind it but, for whatever reason, it didn’t fully connect with me.

Ur:

I liked this horror story about a Kindle a lot – it’s one of my favorites in this book. Only Stephen King could write a scary story about a Kindle, for crying out loud. And it works really well. That damn Kindle gave me the creeps! Maybe I don’t want to get mine working again after all.

Herman Wouk Is Still Alive:

Another pretty heartbreaking story that feels too “real” for my liking. King is so good at capturing human nature & the sort of every day tragedies that we all read about in the news but I read for escapism and, like I said, I’m happier when he sticks to the strange & supernatural. I get enough “real life” in real life.

Under The Weather:

Another absolutely heartbreaking “real life” sort of story. But it’s so good & such a well-written story that I did like it (and, again, it would make a good TV adaptation). The end is extremely obvious from early on if you’ve read enough stories but it was still heartbreaking & kept me wanting to read to see how he’d handle the ending.

Blockade Billy:

I wasn’t really a fan of this one. The story is about a baseball player & it’s an okay story but still has too much baseball talk for my liking.

Mister Yummy:

An okay story but not the best. King explores mortality so often & this is yet another one with this theme. He’s done far better stories dealing with this topic – this one is fairly forgettable.

Tommy:

This was an interesting story of a hippie who died in 1969. King doesn’t give much detail in his intro but alludes to the fact that it’s somewhat based on someone he knew? It’s a well-written piece & evokes a 60’s mood that I really liked.

The Little Green God Of Agony:

Yet another so very “King” tale. It’s a bit bizarre & something that only his mind could come up with. He says in the intro that he wrote it several years after being hit by that van, once the worst of his pain was gone. I knew that accident was pretty bad but didn’t realize quite how badly he was hurt. Anyway, I enjoyed this story & its typical King weirdness.

That Bus Is Another World:

A pretty simple story that, once again, explores human nature & morality. A good story but probably not one I’ll remember years from now. Was hoping for more of a supernatural twist with that title.

Obits:

A good story with a great concept. Not the best in the book but one of the strongest ideas. Another one that would make a great adaptation for the small screen.

Drunken Fireworks:

I really liked this story. The thing that King always does best is capture small town American life (usually in Maine – I’m too lazy to see if that’s where this was set too but I assume so). The characters are great & feel like people I grew up with in my own small American town. Probably not the best story in the book but, if it’s the type you can relate to, it’s probably a favorite for some readers. Would probably just squeak into my top five in this collection (I’m not gonna be sad enough to rank these. Well, maybe…).

Summer Thunder:

The final story in the book & definitely one of my favorites. It was the perfect story to end the book as it’s a post-apocalyptic tale. I don’t know why I have such an obsession with this genre – I think it’s because any sort of apocalypse is a genuine fear I’ve had since a young age. Anyway, I thought this was a strong story for its very short length.

My Overall Rating For The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams: 4/5

Okay, I’m gonna choose my five favorites. Hmm… Here are My Top Five Stories (in book appearance order):

The Dune
Ur
Under The Weather
Drunken Fireworks
Summer Thunder

Honorable Mention: The Little Green God Of Agony