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Stories 238 - 253

I finally got around to reading Joe Hill's "20th Century Ghosts" over the past few weeks.  Although billed as Horror, not too many stories in the book actually fit neatly into that niche.  Here's my brief analysis of each story:

Story 238: Best New Horror.  The editor of a yearly "best new horror" anthology is quite taken with a story by an unknown author, and attempts to track said author down.  We never really get to read the story-within-a-story but it is summarized for us and is quite disturbing.  One of the things I liked about this piece is the comment that mainstream literary magazines do not like the twist-ending, because real-life has no twist endings.  Pretty perceptive.

Story 239: 20th Century Ghost.  It's about a haunted movie theater.  But it's about more.  It's about our love of movies, and about how legends grow and how people will try to jump on a bandwagon and how something like a haunting can actually improve a place's reputation.

Story 240: Pop Art.  Definitely not a horror story.  Might fall better into the realm of "magical realism."  As long as you can accept the idea that some people are born with a defect which results in them being basically a living balloon, the story otherwise stays firmly in the realm of how friendships begin and grow, and how friendship can affect one's own perception of self and the world.

Story 241: You Will Hear The Locust Sing.  Sort of a retelling of Kafka's Metamorphosis (the main character is even named Francis), if the story were told as a 1950s "giant insect" horror movie filmed in the 1990s.  There's a fair amount of character introspection, but there's also towards the end a fair amount of gore.

Story 242: Abraham's Boys.  That nice Professor Van Helsing who moved into the farm down the road a few years ago.  His oldest son has such a stammer, but the youngest is so friendly.  Shame about their mother Mina and about how strict their father is, especially about them being home by nightfall ...

Story 243: Better Than Home.  Another story that is decidedly not horror.  The main character is a socially awkward child whose father is a famously loud and combative major league baseball manager.  The story is about baseball, about acting the way people expect us to (living up, or down, to reputations), and about where we feel the most comfortable.  It's a bittersweet story with an odd narrator.

Story 244:  The Black Phone.  This one comes close to being outright horror.  One of those classic stories in which someone is in a completely untenable situation, and they do what they must to survive.  Hill captures well that feeling of lack of lucidity that comes from dehydration/malnutrition, and adds a twist to the end that reminded me of a certain Orson Scott Card story from a long time ago.

Story 245: In The Rundown shares some similarity of tone with The Black Phone, although the protagonist is older.  The story takes an turn into a totally different mood at about the halfway point, which got my heart racing a little bit as I realized the story was not really about what I'd been thinking until them.  Very nice twist.

Story 246: The Cape.  This fits nicely into the urban fantasy genre.  An old tattered costume cape (made from an old towel) has a direct influence on the lives of two brothers when the older one sees the younger one seemingly fly.

Story 247: Last Breath.  There's this museum that exhibits the last breaths of people both famous and not.  It doesn't get many visitors because people of skeptical when they listen to something they shouldn't be able to hear.  The doctor in charge will explain exactly what is is he's exhibiting.

Story 248: Dead-Wood.  Do trees have ghosts?  This piece of very short fiction (not even two pages) asks the question.

Story 249: The Widow's Breakfast.  Another story that is not really horror.  The main character is a hobo during the Depression who jumps off a train moving quicker than he thought it was, and ends up hobbling into a farm where he meets a young widow and her daughters.  It's a nice story about human kindness, mixed with the pain of that era.

Story 250: Bobby Conroy Comes Back From The Dead.  This one takes place during the filming of a George Romero zombie movie, and really focuses on two old friends / former high school lovers getting reacquainted.  It leaves a lot unsaid, which somehow worked for me.

Story 251: My Father's Mask.  Another of the stories that actually fits the "horror' label, although it doesn't really get horrific until the end.  The narrator walks that fine line of not being sure what is real and what is just a game ....

Story 252: Voluntary Committal.  Two very different brothers feature in this story.  The narrator is at loose ends, even years after the events he's talking about, never really able to decide who he is.  His younger brother is autistic but far more secure in his identity.  The younger brother is constantly building things in the basement out of cardboard boxes, and the older one is not really sure what goes on down there.

Story 253: Scheherezade's Typwriter is a short story actually hidden in the acknowledgements.  Hill mentions that Gene Wolfe and Neil Gaiman have both hidden short stories in the introductions to anthologies, so he thought he'd be the first to hide on in the acknowledgements.  This one is short and sweet and about, as you may have guessed, a haunted typewriter.



( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 9th, 2008 06:51 am (UTC)
sounds good.
Nov. 9th, 2008 06:54 am (UTC)
Re: 253
It's short but a good piece.
Nov. 9th, 2008 03:20 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure about 'real life not having twist endings'...I'm sure a lot of people like make a big decision then lose the job they were depending on...or find out that someone they trusted was cheating them all along...etc.

But this does sound like a really interesting collection. I didn't know he was the son of Stephen King - from these stories, it sounds like he's maybe a more inventive writer...how would you compare the two?
Nov. 9th, 2008 08:47 pm (UTC)
Oh, I don't necessarily agree with the concept that "real life doesn't have twist endings." What I thought was perceptive was Hill's assessment that many of the major magazines, like The New Yorker, and many of the smaller "literary magazines" (especially those published by colleges) honestly seem to believe the concept and often reject stories that move outside of that "I woke up, had a cup of coffee, spent the day in existential angst, then went to sleep realizing nothing had changed" type of situation.

I'm pretty sure Hill is tired of being compared to his father (as I'm sure most children of famous people who follow in their parents career path are). However, I think that Joe Hill has a better shot at being accepted earlier in his career as an "all-around writer" rather than a "genre" writer based on the stories in this collection. Of course, some of that will depend on whether Hill's next novel is another horror book, or if he goes with something different in tone. Overall, I'd say the stories I enjoyed the most in this collection were the ones that were slightly reminiscent of my favorite King short stories -- which tend to be the ones that are not outright horror.
Nov. 10th, 2008 04:09 am (UTC)
Would you recommend this collection at all to someone who isn't so familiar with the horror genre, maybe as kind of a light intro or something? A lot of these stories sounded really interesting to me, and I was wondering how you feel the whole collection holds up. Thanks!
Nov. 10th, 2008 04:34 am (UTC)
I think the whole collection holds up very well, and yes I would recommend it to someone not familiar with the horror genre. I think the reason the collection works as a whole is because there are varying degrees of horror, and some stories that are really not horror at all. So there's an actual sort of ebb-and-flow to the sequence that keeps you from getting too many outright horror pieces in a row.
Nov. 10th, 2008 04:45 am (UTC)
Thanks a lot! I'll have to check it out.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


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