20th Century Ghosts Hardcover – Oct 4 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
After the release of Hill's acclaimed novel Heart-Shaped Box, this collection of his short fiction, originally published in Britain two years ago made its way to the United States. Hill, the son of horror master Stephen King, runs a diverse gamut that includes some unapologetic chillers along the lines of the book's title story. Yet the essence of his material could best be described as a hybrid that connects the ironic twists from episodes of The Twilight Zone with the angst and vulnerability of childhood and adolescence. David LeDoux, whose previous audiobook credits include Douglas Coupland's Hey Nostradamus! and Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants, demonstrates an especially keen knack for capturing the cadence of teen and young adult male speech patterns, with equal parts deadpan cool and quivering tension. Hill's novella Voluntary Committal provides a sublime experience of jarring suspense and compelling family drama. Admittedly, a few of the briefer works may leave listeners longing for more fully developed story lines, but Hill consistently manages to evoke emotional responses and provoke unsettling questions, which makes for a worthwhile experience.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“Alternately sad, scary, strange and at times even sweet, these tales will haunt you long after you’ve read them.” (Parade (a "Parade Pick"))
“[A] lovely, earnest collection of short fiction.” (Village Voice)
“[O]ne of the best [horror] collections of the year. Hill is a relative newcomer who consistently creates creepy, very disturbing stories.” (Locus)
“Each tale is unique, and the collection proves that Hill’s talent is not limited to horror, but extends well into the mainstream.” (Denver Rocky Mountain News)
“[An] inventive collection . . . brave and astute.” (New York Times Book Review (Editor's Choice))
“[A] new take on the fantasy-horror genre...Highly recommended.” (The Sun Herald (Sydney, Australia))
“The selections range from the mundane to the surreal, with a strong emphasis on the kind of horror tale perfected by Ray Bradbury, Peter Straub and Stephen King.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
“This solid, inventive, scary collection of stories reveals a writer who has thought hard about the problematics of horror.” (New York Times on 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS)
“Each of these chilling tales arrests you from the opening sentence and leads you trustingly, thanks to the simple mastery of the story-teller into a place of gulping fear.” (Daily Mail (London) on 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS)
“Subtle and disturbing in equal measure.” (Coventry Telegraph on 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS)
“Irresistible stories.” (Evening Herald (Ireland))
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Top Customer Reviews
But dammit, he delivers!
Although Heart Shaped Box, his aforementioned first novel, was published earlier this year, technically this compilation was his first published book. It was issued by PS Publishing, a small press in the UK over 2 years ago (thanks Peter!!!) and pulls together many of Joe's works that had been printed in magazines and anthologies.
These 16 stories (although only 15 are listed on the title page - you have to find the last one) include mention of ghosts, nasty people, dysfunctional families, perhaps idiot savants, killers and more.
Whether he is writing in the first or third person he finds a way to suck you into a story so that you can't get out until it's over. He's included tales about horror writers that scare you on their own, ghosts that stick around, inflatable kids and the impact left upon those that knew them once they're gone, kids that turn into giant, killing insects, the legacy of having a vampire hunter as a father, collectors of the odd and more.
You can tell that Joe was developing his style or voice as he wrote these works. One or two come to what you'd expect was the obvious ending... Some throw in a twist that you weren't expecting... But what stands out more than anything is the relationships between the characters in each story. Regardless of the premise, they're believable!Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
In bypassing pop clichés, the ending of a truly great story should be a surprise--not because of a trick, but because in telling the truth, the clichés get left behind.
I was three stories deep in Joe Hill's "20th Century Ghosts" before I decided that I was reading the freshest, most surprising, truest speculative fiction I'd read in decades. Each piece in this book is a gem. "Best New Horror" is a formulaic tale about an editor who's tired of formula stories. The last paragraph of the tale takes an exhilarating turn that struck me as poetic--completely reframing the story. "Pop Art" is the most unusual, touching piece of fiction I can remember. The title is a pun, and the story is absurd. How could it leave me in tears? "Better than Home" is an odd father-son love story. What is a story about baseball, uncontrollable saliva, dead bodies under a covered bridge and the joys of throwing peanut shells on the steps doing in a collection of horror tales? Fitting in quite nicely. Every tale here belongs.
Critics often say, "I couldn't put the book down." I put 20th Century Ghosts down a half-dozen times, asking myself, "How could this guy be so damned good?" Do yourself a huge favor. Buy 20th Century Ghosts and "begin collaborating" with this most talented author.
Twentieth Century Ghosts contains 15 of the most severely bizarre and original stories ever conceived. Hill has been influenced by Malamud and Kafka. These tales are the stuff of Twilight Zone, seriously creepy and macabre, full of spectral and often perverse violence. Any parent other than Stephen King might be very concerned.
I think my favorite was "Pop Art," a fable of an inflatable teen, and his best friend, who happens to have a nasty father with a vicious dog. Or maybe it was "Voluntary Committal," where seriously schizophrenic Morris Lerner, builder of elaborate basement cardboard box mazes, helps out his older brother by getting rid of a nasty pal.
"Most of my stories are really that simple. They're built around the collision of the real and the impossible..." from an interview with Joe Hill by Daniel M. Jaffe on the web site Biblio Buffet.
NOTE: Many of the stories feature threatened children. If this sort of thing bothers you, stay away.
Armchair Interviews says: Read this one with the lights on.
Hill wears his influences and inspirations on his sleeve. "You Will Hear the Locust Sing" is like Kafka's The Metamorphosis set during a 1950's giant bug movie. "Abraham's Boys" is his take on the Van Helsing character from Dracula. "The Cape" is both a realistic character study and a superhero origin story. "20th Century Ghost" is a nostalgic homage to both film history, in general, and Steven Spielberg, in particular.
Yet, none of the stories ever feel derivative or lazy, because Hill always manages to add some new or unexpected twist. Many of the stories are disturbing, some are even shocking, but they also manage to be humorous, warm, and tender. There's authentic emotional depth in these tales. I can't manage to make it through "Pop Art," the absolute masterpiece of the collection, without crying every single time.
The title couldn't be more accurate, because these stories all feature characters that are haunted--haunted by their pasts, by inner demons, by troubled childhoods, and horrible secrets. Identity seems to be the common theme that connects these stories--how do we decide who we are? Is it a gift (or a curse) from our families? Do we decide ourselves who we are? Do we embrace our secret self (You Will Hear the Locust Sing, The Cape), do we run from it (Best New Horror), do we hide from it (Voluntary Committal)? Are we predetermined to become our parents (My Father's Mask)?
Hill displays incredible talent in this book. I can't wait to see what he produces in the future. In the meantime, I highly recommend this one.
The short story titled "20th Century Ghost" is a very good ghost story whereas "Best New Horror" was a very good modern horror story. These two stories were my favorites with "Voluntary Commitment", "Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead", "The Black Phone", and "The Widow's Breakfast" not far behind. If you are looking for an enjoyable collection of short stories with a mix of topics, try this book.
Best New Horror - An interesting start to the collection. The editor of a compendium called the America's Best Horror receives a tale that he feels must be included in his next volume. The trouble is, he can't get in contact with the author. This leads to an obsessive and creepy search for the mysterious author. I thought that this story had a pretty good build up to a satisfying conclusion. Even though the reader pretty much knew where the tale was going, it was kind of like watching a good cheesy horror movie where you keep telling the character, "Hey, don't do that!" or "Why the Hell are you going in there?" Good, good fun.
20th Century Ghost - This story takes place in a movie theater and revolves around the current theater manager and the ghost that haunts it. I really enjoyed this one. Even though it has a ghost, it's not at all a horror story so much a fond recollection of the life of a movie theater and the effort of one individual to contact those that loved the theater in order to make an effort to save it.
Pop Art - I'm not too sure about this entry into the collection. It's kind of like one of those Twilight Zone episodes that was WAY outside of the box and didn't really feel like the rest of the episodes. This story is about an inflatable boy who is actually alive and living as close to a normal life as someone who's inflatable can. It's a really weird concept and I can't exactly say that I found it to be all that enjoyable. It has the potential to grow on me though upon subsequent readings.
You Will Hear the Locust Sing - Back to something more along the horror vein. When a young man wakes in the morning and realizes that he has mutated into an insect, all hell breaks loose. This was an interesting story and moved along at a fairly brisk pace. After the last story, I feel like we're on the right track again.
Abraham's Boys - This story catches the reader up with Abraham Van Helsing and his two sons. Now living in America, Van Helsing is a hard task master trying to teach his sons to fear and respect the creatures of the night. I liked this story and thought that raised some interesting questions about Van Helsing. I especially liked the ending.
Better Than Home - This was an odd story involving a kid who suffers from anxiety attacks whose father is a professional baseball manager. It was fairly entertaining and even humorous at times, but I'm not really sure that I got the point.
The Black Phone - Ah, back to a good scary one! A young boy is abducted and kept in a basement with a strange black phone on the wall. The phone is obviously disconnected and of no use in his efforts to escape...and then it rings! I really enjoyed this one, it has a nice build up of tension and a very satisfying conclusion.
In the Rundown - A video store employee, who used to be a fairly good athlete but because of a learning disability lost confidence in himself and lost the opportunities to better his life, discovers a macabre crime scene on his way home. This one had a good premise and a nice build up, but really left you hanging in the end. I had my suspicions as to how this story would turn out, only to not have anything confirmed as it just ended in the middle of the climax. Other than that (and it's kind of a big other than that!) it was a pretty good story.
The Cape - Two young boys discover the magical powers of a super-hero cape. When they are grown, the cape makes another appearance and the results are more sinister. I really found this one to be fairly fun and enjoyable.
Last Breath - This is a story about a unique museum - on that displays a collection of people's last dying breaths - and the experiences of a family that visits it. This one wasn't really scary, but extremely creepy! One of my favorites in the collection.
Dead-Wood - This is a two page discussion on whether trees can also have ghosts. Kind of interesting, but kind of weird too.
The Widow's Breakfast - A hobo who's friend dies jumps off of a train before reaching a depot where a nasty watchman is rumored to reside and encounters a very strange family. This story was pretty well written and an interesting read but the creepy element felt forced and squeezed in to me.
Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead - Two former lovers are reunited while cast as zombies in George Romero's Dawn of the Dead. This is a fairly entertaining story with no real horror in it except for the setting. The characters are compelling and likeable.
My Father's Mask - Back to a fairly strange one. The story centers around a teenager whose parents decide on the spur of the moment to go to his deceased grandfather's lake house for the weekend. Strange events ensue and everyone is forced to wear masks to distinguish them from the evil playing-card people. Not a bad story, but not one of my favorites either.
Voluntary Committal - This is a story about a couple of brothers, one of whom is mentally handicapped. He has a talent for building things, first structures out of paper cups and dominos and later sprawling, magical forts out of cardboard boxes. This was a very interesting and engaging coming of age story that focuses on the bond between two very different brothers. I really enjoyed it and it was one of my favorites in the book.
Afterward - Be sure to read the afterward, Mr. Hill has included a bonus story in here!