Joe Hill first came to my attention as the writer for the superior comic series Locke & Key, which is alternately fantastical, innocent, joyous and horrifying. As such I think I was properly ready for more of his work, and found a fascinating short story collection to use to expand on our relationship.
20th Century Ghosts is a collection of fifteen stories that explore dark corners of the imagination and dark souls. There is an unnerving dreamlike tale called My Father’s Mask, there is the beautiful titular 20th Century Ghosts, there are troubling tales like In the Rundown, The Black Phone, and The Cape and a frightening look at the offspring of Van Helsing in Abraham’s Boys.
I went in expecting more horror, and there are horrors to be found here, but few of the supernatural variety, more of the human, but it is the fantastical tales that seemed to reverberate more with me. Hill has a way with creating images, as well as referencing pop culture events the majority of us would recognise (the story Bobby Conroy Comes Back From the Dead was a very pleasant surprise in that context).
After having spent so much time enjoying Stephen King’s writings and terrors, it made for an interesting experience exploring the dark arenas of horror with another writer. Hill’s craftmanship lays in the fact that he builds the story, and in his more terrifying tales comes right out and tells you things aren’t going to end well, with phrases like, that was the last time I saw him, and things akin to that.
The introductory tale, Best New Horror, plays brilliantly with horror tropes and takes everything we’ve ever experienced in horror, and have become jaded to, and make it disturbing again. It’s a great entry into the stories, and sets up the rest of the book quite nicely.
But for sheer beauty, 20th Century Ghosts cannot be topped, and the tale centring around a spirit that haunts a movie theatre is a new favourite.
My imagination keeps returning to the dreamlike images of My Father’s Masks, and the realms of possibility contained in Voluntary Committal, and the joyous innocence and beauty of Pop Art.
As an introduction to Hill’s writing, this collection serves nicely, and I will be digging into more of his writing soon, and would delightfully recommend this one to others, even as I seek suggestions on something really scary…
Check this one out, settle in, get comfy, and enjoy.