Sunday, October 2, 2011

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

I do not usually read short story collections, not because I have anything against short stories but because I prefer the intimacy and depth of novels. Even the length of the novel is often not satisfying enough for me, and I want to spend more time with the characters. I made an exception for this collection because I enjoyed Heart-Shaped Box so much that it put me on a Joe Hill kick.

The audio book edition contains 15 stories, one hidden in the Acknowledgments. There are a few stories that have been included in other editions that were not in this one. It saddens me to miss out on them, I may have to hunt them down.

The tales range from beautifully sentimental to truly disturbing, sometimes a mix of the two is found in a single narrative. Several of them made me cry (not really a safe thing when driving), all of the stories had an honesty to the emotions portrayed in them. This is vital for me as a reader. There was not a single story in the collection that I didn't like or enjoy, though some cut off abruptly when I wanted more. It was not a failing of the stories, but a deliberate choice on the part of Mr. Hill, and used to quite a good effect. I truly can not pick out a favorite story, but will highlight a few that particularly touched me.

I think the most touching, and sadly sweet, of the stories is "20th Century Ghost". It is the tale of a man and a movie theater. It is the story of coming to love cinema, and the affect it has on him. It is also the story of a ghost that can not leave the theater for the love of it and film. Though there are a few spooky moments, this story is predominately about love. I feel Joe Hill's sadness at the disappearance of the old style movie houses, as well as the shift away from making movies for the love of the art. This could just be me reading my own feelings about the modern movie industry into the story. The story is deeper than that, and moves to other types of love. I admit, this is one of the stories that made me cry. It was strangely romantic for a horror collection.

"My Father's Mask" was very strange. It twisted and turned a lot. Despite the fact that the father is in the title, the reader actually learns very little about him. The focus is on the boy and his mother. The boy is 13 and is annoyed by his mother's silly games and make believe stories (as many teenagers are). Yet he finds he can't resist being pulled in by them and playing along. His mother's story about why they are going to the family cabin frightens him, as does her and his father wearing masks the whole time they are there. This story left me feeling quite uncomfortable.

Another one that I quite enjoyed was "Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead", this may be partially because it's setting is the filming of "Dawn of the Dead". For the entire story, our characters are in zombie make-up. George Romero and Tom Savini make cameo appearances. I am curious as to how much of their speeches in the tale reflect the ones they truly gave the extras on the film.

Several of the stories deal with relationships between brothers, others deal with friendships. The descriptions bring the locals and the characters quickly to life. I recommend reading this book, short stories are perfect for when you want a good read but don't have hours to get lost in another world.