For a long time, this book was my “white whale”. Up to recently, I had three of Joe Hill’s novels (Heart-Shaped Box, Horns, NOS4A2) in hardcover and although 20th Century Ghosts was easily accessible in paperback or for download on my Kindle, I felt I needed to match my existing format and seek out the rare hardbound edition.
With every second-hand bookstore I entered, this illusive short story collection was front and centre in my mind. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t find it. A few months ago I had all but given up until my lovely girlfriend surprised me with a copy for Christmas! Did I mention it was signed? My name might not be “Tom” but who cares? Close enough.
20th Century Ghosts is a collection of short stories dealing with the subjects of death, loss and fear. Although Joe Hill is an accomplished horror novelist, not everything in here will give you the willies. In fact, although one of the better stories – the collection’s namesake, 20th Century Ghost – features a spooky specter, it’s more nostalgic and sweet rather than scary.
There are some great ones in here that I really enjoyed. “Best New Horror” tells of a magazine editor who has fallen into a rut – both professionally and personally – before coming across a new story so enthralling that it sets him on a quest to find its reclusive author. “Pop Art” did a real number on me and is probably my favourite of the bunch. It is a sad, coming of age tale about two friends who experience profound loss – did I mention one of them is an inflatable human?
I still struggle with short story collections in that I’m so accustomed to long-form fiction that reading several tales in one session tends to burn me out a lot faster. I need to process a story after I finish one and then refocus on another. Maybe they’re better read in short bursts. I should probably adapt this strategy in the future.
20th Century Ghosts is a glimpse into Hill’s past as several of the stories were written just as he was starting out as a published author – a time when he was relatively unknown and people didn’t know he was Uncle Stevie’s boy. It’s worth checking out for die hard fans and genre fiction enthusiasts alike.