I don’t typically venture in the horror genre in Waterstones, it just isn’t something I do. But after a recommendation I ended up searching the shelves for this short story collection by Joe Hill, 20th Century Ghosts. Horror in name, horror in the authors roots, but not completely a horror short story collection. This delves through creeps and love, the horrors hiding far away.
But 20th Century Ghosts does have a lot of horror tropes doing the rounds. Ghosts, vampires, serial killers and monsters pop up through the sixteen tales, and there is always a masterful edge of tension lurking nearby even when it may not amount to much. Careful build up is in every story, all making for vulnerable reading in the uncertainties about to happen, or from the inevitability impossible to hide from. Even in the non horror tales there is this edge through Joe Hill’s writing and it means none of the stories are ever a bore, and while the start-ups can be slow, they manage to draw you in with increasing pace as you flip through the pages to the climaxes. The fate of the insect boy in ‘You Will Hear The Locust Sing’ and the Saw like entrapment in ‘The Black Phone’ offer some of the best thrills.
But horror isn’t what makes 20th Century Ghosts a must read collection, it is the more heartfelt tales tucked in between. ‘Bobby Conroy Comes Back From The Dead’ takes a horror setting as people dress as zombies for a horror film, but makes use of this setting as a chance encounter between two old friends once in love, but now having to accept one moved on. The use of strong setting with beautiful Murakami like loneliness combines to make a killer story. Then there is the short story ‘Pop Art’ which is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read. It tells the story of a boy and his inflatable friend and how it all comes to an end. It makes the unbelievable work without any hitches and it expresses individuality, friendship, weakness and loss with great tact and stunning result.
20th Century Ghosts may be in the horror section thanks to around half the stories venturing into the tragic world of murder and the dead, but it also has those stories which everyone has to read, weak stomach or not. It is worth it just for ‘Pop Art’, and goes toe to toe with the masters of the short story style. Stay with us inflatable balloon boy!