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20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

It’s the variety that makes Joe Hill’s collection of 20th Century Ghosts, (William Morrow, 2005) stand out from the crowd of horror novelists. The stories ranges from the grotesque, to unnerving, even poignant and nostalgic.

“It’s a nice memory of my father sitting with his hands cupped behind his head and the wintry blue sky over the both of us. It’s a nice memory with that old seagull floating over the outfield and not going anywhere, just hanging in place with its wings spread, never travelling any closer to wherever it was heading. It’s a nice memory to have in your head, everyone should have a memory just like it.”

This book was not what I expected at all, as a mystery and horror fan I expected to be led down some very familiar plot lines but I was more than pleasantly surprised at the subtle intelligence behind each intriguing story. Christopher Golden, who writes the introduction, captures it perfectly; ‘Most of those who practice the art of the unsettling far too often go for the jugular, forgetting that the best predators are stealthy.’ I shouldn’t have expected any less from the two time winner of the Bram Stocker award whose debut novel ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ featured in the top 10 New York Times Bestsellers List.

Each story has a different style and tone but they do have an underlining theme, Joe Hill’s stories often revolve around a young male protagonist struggling with society in different ways, the relationship between Father and son, girlfriend and boyfriend, the bond between brothers, the real and unreal.

“He wasn’t looking at me. He was methodically beginning to take it all apart, severing tape, pressing boxes flat, piling them next to the stairs.” He went on, “I wanted to help. You said he wouldn’t go away, so I made him go away.” He lifted his gaze for a moment, and stared at me with those eyes that always seemed to look right through me. “He had to go away. He wasn’t ever going to leave you alone.”

As Christopher Golden finds, it is hard not to go into too much detail when writing about the individual stories. The ones that have left me slightly disgusted include the Kafka-esque ‘You Will Hear the Locust Sing’ and ‘My Father’s Mask’. “Better Than Home” made me smile and I’m still thinking about ‘Voluntary Committal’, though I wish I wasn’t!

Even if horror and ghosts aren’t your thing this book is so varied and well written I’d suggest picking it up and you’ll find yourself lost in a world that really isn’t your own. By Dorothy Raffo, BookBuffet Reviewer

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