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20th Century Ghostsby Joe Hill
Winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Best Fiction Collection, 2005
I picked up this collection because I had heard that one of Stephen King's sons was dabbling in the horror genre, and I wanted to see if he was, well, any good. It took roughly three pages for me to determine that Joe Hill is a superb suspense storyteller, who manages it in a way that both evokes his father's tone while firmly establishing his own unique voice. Good, creepy stuff, and the winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Fiction Collection in 2005.
"I'm left with no recourse but to declare Joe Hill a genuine original. The stories in 20th Century Ghosts contain many tropes that will be familiar to readers of horror and dark fantasy...and yet there is an X-factor that marks each story as truly unique and startlingly original....20th Century Ghosts grabbed me with its first story and refused to let go. I read the entire book straight through, much like a novel, and would have started right back at the beginning if my pile of unread bedside reading weren't threatening to topple onto me as I sleep." Chris Bolton, Powells.com (read the entire Powells.com review)
Synopses & Reviews
Imogene is young and beautiful. She kisses like a movie star and knows everything about every film ever made. She's also dead and waiting in the Rosebud Theater for Alec Sheldon one afternoon in 1945...
Arthur Roth is a lonely kid with big ideas and a gift for attracting abuse. It isn't easy to make friends when you're the only inflatable boy in town...
Francis is unhappy. Francis was human once, but that was then. Now he's an eight-foot-tall locust and everyone in Calliphora will tremble when they hear him sing...
John Finney is locked in a basement that's stained with the blood of half a dozen other murdered children. In the cellar with him is an antique telephone, long since disconnected, but which rings at night with calls from the dead...
"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. Simultaneous release with the Morrow hardcover. (Nov.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"'20th Century Ghosts,' the melancholy and very fine story collection by Joe Hill, comes with an impeccable literary pedigree and a great back story. Hill was born Joseph Hillstrom King, son of the writers Tabitha and Stephen King, and developed his chops the old-fashioned way, publishing work in literary magazines and anthologies here and in England. When he began shopping his first collection around,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) it was turned down in the United States and finally appeared in 2005 from a small British press. That edition garnered numerous awards, including the William Crawford Award for best first fantasy book, and won its author a contract at Morrow, which earlier this year published his best-selling horror novel, 'Heart-Shaped Box.' Now Americans finally get a chance to see what all the noise was about: This new edition of '20th Century Ghosts' includes a previously unpublished story, and the collection should establish its author as a major player in 21st-century fantastic fiction. Hill's subject matter is steeped in the pop culture and tabloid detritus of the last 50 years: serial killers, abducted children, families living on the fault lines between divorce and poverty, horror movies and supernatural fiction. Yet his real focus is an almost obsessively nuanced exploration of the nature of American manhood. The presiding spirits of '20th Century Ghosts' are lost boys and damaged men, running for their lives across a blighted, often surreal modern landscape. 'Best New Horror' is a gleefully mordant shout-out to Hill's roots in genre fiction, evoking the close-knit, somewhat claustrophobic world of horror conventions and publishing in the tale of an editor whose pursuit of a reclusive writer reaches a disturbing yet exhilarating conclusion. The lovely title story, set in a haunted movie theater, is sweeter and Capra-esque in its effects. 'You Will Hear the Locust Sing' recasts Kafka's 'Metamorphosis' as a lurid A-Bomb monster flick — think 'Attack of the Crab Monsters' with a giant mutant cockroach (a cannibal, no less). 'Abraham's Boys' is an overwrought deconstruction of the 'Van Helsing' branch of the Dracula mythos; 'The Black Phone' provides a supernatural take on what has become an over familiar trope: the serial child killer. Hill's best stories veer away from the well-trodden creep shows and back alleys of genre writing into more dangerous territory: suburban basements, ball fields and schoolyards. These are where his protagonists, all male, vie with brothers, fathers, friends (but only occasionally wives or lovers) to stake some small claim to a deceptively mundane prize, what the narrator of the wrenching 'Voluntary Committal' calls 'a strong sense of self.' 'Eddie knew who he was. He accepted himself. His failings had ceased to trouble him. Every word he spoke was a thoughtless, pure expression of his true personality. Whereas I had no clear picture of myself, and was always looking to others, watching them intently, both hoping and fearing that I would catch some clear sign of who they saw when they looked at me.' In this and the collection's other standouts, 'Pop Art,' 'Better Than Home' and 'The Widow's Breakfast,' Hill captures the heartbreaking longing for connection between men whose intelligence and decency aren't always enough to save them from the dark. Elizabeth Hand's most recent novel is 'Generation Loss.'" Reviewed by Elizabeth Hand, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"A collection of pleasantly creepy stories....
"'Pop Art,' 'You Will Hear the Locust Sing' and 'Voluntary Committal' are all terrific, and the rest are, at a minimum, solid, swift and craftsmanlike. But 'Best New Horror' seems to me the most thrillingly original of Hill's weird tales, a daredevil performance that keeps some complex ideas suspended in the air along with, of course, our usual disbelief." Terrence Rafferty, The New York Times Book Review
"20th Century Ghosts has proven to be everything I wanted and more....[Hill] deserves to be someone that every fan of the short story in particular ought to be reading....I admire the hell out of this guy and everything he does with the written word." Colleen Mondor, BookSlut
"Although not everything is ghostly, this is dark fiction at its best that will keep you entertained, disquieted and spellbound at the same time. I cannot recommend enough this book. I'm quite sure you'll be thankful for taking my advice." SFSite.com
"Many other long-published authors would kill to be as good as just one of these stories — it's that good. And one of the best story collections I've read in years. Haunting, resonant, melancholic — a collection that richly deserves its awards." SFFWorld.com
"[A]mply demonstrates the author's unique take on a genre made iconic by his father Stephen King....[Hill] excels at spiking his narratives with a potent mix of emotion and fright....He consistently blurs the distinction between recognizable emotions and the downright eerie." Time Out New York
"[W]ill appeal not only to fantasy and horror fans, but also to those who appreciate drama and suspense....With their cliff-hanger endings, quick pacing, and three-dimensional characters, many of these selections will spark interesting classroom and book-club discussions." School Library Journal
This award-winning collection of short fiction by the New York Times bestselling author of Heart-Shaped Box leads readers into a maze filled with exits into a vast country of the surreal. Available in paperback for the first time in the U.S., this volume includes an exclusive bonus story.
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. . . .
About the Author
Joe Hill is the author of the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller Heart-Shaped Box, a two-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award, and a past recipient of the World Fantasy Award. His stories have appeared in a variety of journals and Year's Best collections. He calls New England home.
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