20th Century Ghosts – Joe Hill

Yikes! It’s been a month since I’ve written about the books I’ve been reading. I blame school and other work and life in general. To be honest, I’ve had a lackluster reading life of late and I’m not even sure I understand the reason why. I am still reading, but I can’t remember the last time I was head-over-heels in love with a book. Yes – I am experiencing the proverbial book slump. I guess I need to find that one book that kick starts my reading libido.

But, I do need to tell you about a handful of the books I’ve plowed through over the last 20th centuryfew weeks and I’ll start with Joe Hill’s collection of short stories, 20th Century Ghosts. I bought this book eons ago and it languished on my tbr shelf forever. During the summer I thought that maybe reading some short stories would cure me of my reading lethargy.  I was a big fan of Hill’s novel Heart-Shaped Box and his short stories didn’t disappoint, either, although not all of them would fall into the horror vein.

The first story in the collection, “Best New Horror” tells the story of  Eddie Carroll, jaded editor of the anthology America’s Best New Horror. He’s sixteen editions in and “he didn’t finish most of the stories he started anymore, couldn’t bear to. He felt weak at the thought of reading another story about vampires having sex with other vampires.”

Then, out of the blue, he receives an unsolicited story by way of an English professor named Harold Noonan. Noonan insists that the story “Buttonboy: A Love Story” is “a remarkable, if genuinely distressing, work of fiction.” Noonan himself had published it in the literary journal True North and the reaction had been immediate. And not in a good way. Carroll reads the story and admits that it is “cruel and perverse and he had to have it.”

When he decides to track down the story’s author, things take a turn for the truly horrifying.

Another story, “You Will Hear the Locust Sing” begins with the sentence “Francis Kay woke from dreams that were not uneasy, but exultant, and found  himself an insect.”

“Better Than Home” is a melancholy story of fatherhood and baseball.

All the stories in the collection are slightly reminiscent of Stephen King, which is unsurprising since Hill is his son. It makes one wonder if the ability to write is a genetic trait that can be passed from parent to child, but the thing is, it’s clear that Hill has crafted his stories with care, and all the stories in this collection are wildly imaginative and often as tender as they are creepy. I didn’t like them all, but all of them are admirable.

 

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