I admit that I had a certain amount of skepticism about Joe Hill as a writer. Being the son of Stephen King, I couldn’t help but think that just maybe he hadn’t quite earned his entrance into the world of publishing the way that other writers had.
I felt a little vindicated with this feeling when I read his novel Heart Shaped Box, because I liked the book well enough, but I didn’t feel it was really ground-breaking or noteworthy in particular.
So, it was with a bit of a raised eyebrow that I noticed his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts had won the Stoker Award for Best Collection in 2005. Based on that award, I decided to give Hill another shot.
And I’m glad I did. 20th Century Ghosts is stellar collection of short stories. As you might expect, there’s a good portion of horror, other “supernatural” type stories, and even a couple that are surprisingly sweet natured.
There are two trends in the stories throughout this collection that set it apart from other “good” horror collections. The first is the sheer imaginativeness behind so many of the ideas. For example, Pop Art was based on perhaps the most absurd-sounding premise I’ve heard in a long time, but in the end was probably one the best and most emotional stories in the book. My Father’s Mask was disturbing in that it portrayed a don’t-look-too-closely world that seemed like ours, but had some damn unsettling things going on behind the scenes.
The second thing that Hill excelled at in these stories is breaking the expected “horror story” formats and cadences. Hill even pokes fun at this in the first story, Best New Horror, which is about a horror magazine editor who has seen it all and read it all a thousand times. Like that jaded and cynical editor, I found something new, interesting, and occasionally truly horrific in Hill’s stories. They are constantly taking unexpected turns leaving the reader (or in my case, the listener) off balance. They also tend to end at unexpected times, almost in mid-story sometimes (or at least that’s the way it felt), leaving the reader to stop, put away their expectations, and consider that ending — and the entire story in a new light.
Just a superb collection. I will definitely re-visit these stories again and again.