20th Century Ghosts, the melancholy and very fine story collection by Joe Hill, comes with an impeccable literary pedigree and a great backstory. Hill was born Joseph Hillstrom King, son of the writers Tabitha and Stephen King, and developed his chops the old-fashioned way, publishing work in literary magazines and anthologies here and in England. When he began shopping his first collection around, it was turned down in the United States and finally appeared in 2005 from a small British press. That edition garnered numerous awards, including the William Crawford Award for best first fantasy book, and won its author a contract at Morrow, which earlier this year published his bestselling horror novel, Heart-Shaped Box. Now Americans finally get a chance to see what all the noise was about: This new edition of 20th Century Ghosts includes a previously unpublished story, and the collection should establish its author as a major player in 21st-century fantastic fiction.
The Washington Post
There are…fine stories in 20th Century Ghosts. "Pop Art," "You Will Hear the Locust Sing" and "Voluntary Committal" are all terrific, and the rest are, at a minimum, solid, swift and craftsmanlike. But "Best New Horror" seems to me the most thrillingly original of Hill's weird tales, a daredevil performance that keeps some complex ideas suspended in the air along with, of course, our usual disbelief. It's brave and astute of Hill to acknowledge that some part of the appeal of horror fictionof any genre fiction, reallyis its very predictability: the comfort of knowing, at least, what kind of story we're reading.
The New York Times
After the release of Hill's acclaimed novel Heart-Shaped Box, this collection of his short fiction, originally published in Britain two years ago made its way to the United States. Hill, the son of horror master Stephen King, runs a diverse gamut that includes some unapologetic chillers along the lines of the book's title story. Yet the essence of his material could best be described as a hybrid that connects the ironic twists from episodes of The Twilight Zonewith the angst and vulnerability of childhood and adolescence. David LeDoux, whose previous audiobook credits include Douglas Coupland's Hey Nostradamus!and Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants, demonstrates an especially keen knack for capturing the cadence of teen and young adult male speech patterns, with equal parts deadpan cool and quivering tension. Hill's novella "Voluntary Committal" provides a sublime experience of jarring suspense and compelling family drama. Admittedly, a few of the briefer works may leave listeners longing for more fully developed story lines, but Hill consistently manages to evoke emotional responses and provoke unsettling questions, which makes for a worthwhile experience. Simultaneous release with the Morrow hardcover. (Nov.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
When Hill's first novel (Heart-Shaped Box) was published, there was much buzz when it was revealed that he was the son of Stephen King. Before that was widely known, however, Hill published a collection of short stories in Britain, which won the Bram Stoker Award, and his novella Best New Horrorbeat out his father's "The Things They Left Behind" in the Long Fiction category. Ghosts, which had a limited print run in Britain, is finally being released here, and it is astounding. Though most of the stories have elements of horror, the overall mood of the collection is one of heartbreaking wonderment, especially evident in the beautiful story "Pop Art" about a young delinquent's friendship with an inflatable boy. Other standouts are "In the Rundown," a Raymond Carveresque tale about a loser who peaked in high school; "Better Than Home," about a disabled boy's relationship with his father; and "Voluntary Committal," in which a child's cardboard fort becomes a solution to his big brother's problems. This edition includes the new story "Scheherezade's Typewriter" hidden in the acknowledgments. Highly recommended for short story and horror fiction collections.-Karl G. Siewert, MLIS, Tulsa City-Cty. Lib., OK
Karl G. Siewert
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-This collection of short stories will appeal not only to fantasy and horror fans, but also to those who appreciate drama and suspense. The book was originally published in the United Kingdom in 2005; the U.S. edition contains 14 short stories, two of which are new to it, and a novella. Selections vary from "My Father's Mask," a bone-chilling tale of a family on the run, to "The Widow's Breakfast" and the kindness of a stranger. Perhaps the most powerful aspect of this anthology is the author's ability to engage readers by eliciting a broad spectrum of emotions, in many cases all within the same story. Teens will find themselves disturbed, amused, and touched by the various conclusions to these tales. And while the plots and characters vary greatly, each story challenges readers to use their own imaginations while appreciating the tales' twists and turns. With their cliff-hanger endings, quick pacing, and three-dimensional characters, many of these selections will spark interesting classroom and book-club discussions. Recommend this title to teens looking for a book that will both challenge and entertain.-Lynn Rashid, Marriots Ridge High School, Marriotsville, MDCopyright 2007 Reed Business Information
A collection of pleasantly creepy stories follows Hill's debut novel (Heart Shaped Box, 2007). Published in a number of magazines from 2001 to the present, most of the stories display the unself-conscious dash that made Hill's novel an intelligent pleasure. In addition to the touches of the supernatural, some heavy, some light, the stories are largely united by Hill's mastery of teenaged-male guilt and anxiety, unrelieved by garage-band success or ambition. One of the longest and best, "Voluntary Committal," is about Nolan, a guilty, anxious high-school student, Morris, his possibly autistic or perhaps just congenitally strange little brother, and Eddie, Nolan's wild but charming friend. Morris, whose problems dominate but don't completely derail his family's life, spends the bulk of his time in the basement creating intricate worlds out of boxes. Eddie and Nolan spend their time in accepted slacker activities until Eddie, whose home life is rough, starts pushing the edges, leading to real mischief, a big problem for Nolan who would rather stay within the law. It's Morris who removes the problem for the big brother he loves, guaranteeing perpetual guilt and anxiety for Nolan. "My Father's Mask" is a surprisingly romantic piece about a small, clever family whose weekend in an inherited country place involves masks, time travel and betrayal. The story least reliant on the supernatural may leave the most readers pining for a full-length treatment: "Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead" reunites a funny but failed standup comedian with his equally funny ex-high school sweetheart Harriet, now married and a mother. Bobby has come back to Pittsburgh, tail between his legs, substitute teachingand picking up the odd acting job, and it is on one of those gigs, a low-budget horror film, that the couple reconnects, falling into their old comedic rhythms. Not just for ghost addicts.
Read an Excerpt
20th Century Ghosts
By Joe Hill
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2007 Joe Hill
All right reserved.
Best New Horror
A month before his deadline, Eddie Carroll ripped open a manila envelope, and a magazine called The True North Literary Review slipped out into his hands. Carroll was used to getting magazines in the mail, although most of them had titles like Cemetery Dance and specialized in horror fiction. People sent him their books, too. Piles of them cluttered his Brookline townhouse, a heap on the couch in his office, a stack by the coffee maker. Books of horror stories, all of them.
No one had time to read them all, although once—when he was in his early thirties and just starting out as the editor of America's Best New Horror—he had made a conscientious effort to try. Carroll had guided sixteen volumes of Best New Horror to press, had been working on the series for over a third of his life now. It added up to thousands of hours of reading and proofing and letter-writing, thousands of hours he could never have back.
He had come to hate the magazines especially. So many of them used the cheapest ink, and he had learned to loathe the way it came off on his fingers, the harsh stink of it.
He didn't finish most of the stories he started anymore, couldn't bear to. He felt weak at thethought of reading another story about vampires having sex with other vampires. He tried to struggle through Lovecraft pastiches, but at the first painfully serious reference to the Elder Gods, he felt some important part of him going numb inside, the way a foot or a hand will go to sleep when the circulation is cut off. He feared the part of him being numbed was his soul.
At some point following his divorce, his duties as the editor of Best New Horror had become a tiresome and joyless chore. He thought sometimes, hopefully almost, of stepping down, but he never indulged the idea for long. It was twelve thousand dollars a year in the bank, the cornerstone of an income patched together from other anthologies, his speaking engagements and his classes. Without that twelve grand, his personal worst-case scenario would become inevitable: he would have to find an actual job.
The True North Literary Review was unfamiliar to him, a literary journal with a cover of rough-grained paper, an ink print on it of leaning pines. A stamp on the back reported that it was a publication of Katahdin University in upstate New York. When he flipped it open, two stapled pages fell out, a letter from the editor, an English professor named Harold Noonan.
The winter before, Noonan had been approached by a part-time man with the university grounds crew, a Peter Kilrue. He had heard that Noonan had been named the editor of True North and was taking open submissions, and asked him to look at a short story. Noonan promised he would, more to be polite than anything else. But when he finally read the manuscript, "Buttonboy: A Love Story," he was taken aback by both the supple force of its prose and the appalling nature of its subject matter. Noonan was new in the job, replacing the just-retired editor of twenty years, Frank McDane, and wanted to take the journal in a new direction, to publish fiction that would "rattle a few cages."
"In that I was perhaps too successful," Noonan wrote. Shortly after "Buttonboy" appeared in print, the head of the English department held a private meeting with Noonan to verbally assail him for using True North as a showcase for "juvenile literary practical jokes." Nearly fifty people cancelled their subscriptions—no laughing matter for a journal with a circulation of just a thousand copies—and the alumna who provided most of True North's funding withdrew her financial support in outrage. Noonan himself was removed as editor, and Frank McDane agreed to oversee the magazine from retirement, in response to the popular outcry for his return.
Noonan's letter finished:
I remain of the opinion that (whatever its flaws), "Buttonboy" is a remarkable, if genuinely distressing, work of fiction, and I hope you'll give it your time. I admit I would find it personally vindicating if you decided to include it in your next anthology of the year's best horror fiction.
I would tell you to enjoy, but I'm not sure that's the word.
Eddie Carroll had just come in from outside, and read Noonan's letter standing in the mudroom. He flipped to the beginning of the story. He stood reading for almost five minutes before noticing he was uncomfortably warm. He tossed his jacket at a hook and wandered into the kitchen.
He sat for a while on the stairs to the second floor, turning through the pages. Then he was stretched on the couch in his office, head on a pile of books, reading in a slant of late October light, with no memory of how he had got there.
He rushed through to the ending, then sat up, in the grip of a strange, bounding exuberance. He thought it was possibly the rudest, most awful thing he had ever read, and in his case that was saying something. He had waded through the rude and awful for most of his professional life, and in those fly-blown and diseased literary swamps had discovered flowers of unspeakable beauty, of which he was sure this was one. It was cruel and perverse and he had to have it. He turned to the beginning and started reading again.
It was about a girl named Cate—an introspective seventeen-year-old at the story's beginning—who one day is pulled into a car by a giant with jaundiced eyeballs and teeth in tin braces. He ties her hands behind her back and shoves her onto the backseat floor of his station wagon . . . where she discovers a boy about her age, whom she at first takes for dead and who has suffered an unspeakable disfiguration. His eyes are hidden behind a pair of round, yellow, smiley-face buttons. They've been pinned right through his eyelids—which have also been stitched shut with steel wire—and the eyeballs beneath.
Excerpted from 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill Copyright © 2007 by Joe Hill. Excerpted by permission.
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