The first time you pick up the hardcover copy of 20th Century Ghosts, you know you’re in for a treat. The book is cloth-bound in darkest black, sans dust jacket, with a sticker on the front listing the title and author, along with a haunting black and white photograph. As one opens the cover, one is greeted by a dried blood-red inlay, followed by the white pages of writing. It is almost as if one is opening a black and bloody wound to read what Joe Hill has to offer.
20th Century Ghosts is a short story collection of modern horror, revealing what else has been going on in the mind of the author who brought us the bestselling Heart-Shaped Box. Originally released in hardcover two years ago in England, Joe Hill fans will be happy to have this beautiful hardcover edition available at the more affordable price than the out-of-print edition only available on the likes of eBay.
With a quick introduction from Christopher Golden, author of The Myth Hunters and Strangewood, the collection kicks of with a chilling story titled “Best New Horror.” It is about an editor of the annual Best New Horror collection who is sent a fresh and disturbing story for the next edition, featuring a level of the macabre and disgust that he hasn’t seen in a long time. The editor seeks out the author and finds himself in his very own horrific story on a level with that of the one that so entranced him. The title story, “20th Century Ghost,” is a classic modern-day ghost story about an old movie theater that is being haunted by a young girl who loved to watch movies until she died suddenly one day at the theater. Now she returns every once in a while to engage a movie viewer in chilling conversation.
From there Hill takes the reader on a journey into different kinds of horror. A man in a Kafkaesque world awakes as a giant cockroach. A young boy is kidnapped by a terrifying hulk of a man who admits he won’t hurt him, but simply wants to watch him. A short and enchanting tale about the ghosts of trees. The fascinating story about a boy who can fly whenever he wears his childhood cape. Not all stories are of the horror variety, but more the mundane and yet still able to move the reader. “Pop Art” is the incredible and yet strangely enchanting story about a world where some people are “inflatable,” composed of little more tan plastic and air and must be careful not to get caught on anything sharp, or they will deflate and die. It is a moving story about a boy and his relationship with one of these inflatable people. A considerable number of the stories in 20th Century Ghosts involve children, specifically young boys. Perhaps Hill is turning to his own childhood imagination, or maybe he feels that childhood is a time when the imagination is most creative and easily convinced, even if the demons and monsters that are imagined are actually real.
While Heart-Shaped Box was not as great a book as I’d hoped, 20th Century Ghosts has convinced me that Joe Hill is an entertaining and talented new horror writer, who is still working somewhat in the style of his father, Stephen King, but as time passes and more stories and books are written and published, he will no doubt become one of the most popular and most interesting of today’s horror writers. I look forward to reading his next work.
If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.
Originally written on October 26th 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.