I think it is safe to say that in spite of the pseudonym, everyone knows who Joe Hill’s daddy is. That’s right – my favorite contemporary author himself, Stephen King. I’m sure this wasn’t a big secret for long; anyone who looks at the author photo on the back of Heart Shaped Box can detect a not-so-subtle family resemblance. I was curious about Joesph Hillstrom King because of his famous genes. He’s definitely no Stephen King, but his stories are far from disappointing.
Some of the stories in this collection aren’t very original. “You Will Hear the Locust Sing,” for instance, is clearly inspired by Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. I have never found the idea of a guy waking up as a giant insect to be particularly inspirational, so Hill’s decision to revisit that concept deeply annoys and saddens me. Other stories are ridiculous on the surface, yet I found myself unable to stop reading. This is the case with “Pop Art,” which chronicles the relationship between a boy and his friend Art. Art is a plastic, inflatable doll, but in Hill’s realm, this is merely a birth defect that could afflict anyone.
Regardless of the story, Hill’s distinct authorial voice carries through both the familiar and the more unique tales. Thus, while some pieces are better than others, the overall reading experience of 20th Century Ghosts is genuinely enjoyable.
“Abraham’s Boys” and “Best New Horror” are both solidly written, but “Voluntary Committal” is absolutely the best of the collection. The concept of an autistic child with special powers certainly has been overdone, but Hill gives this motif a much-needed kick that results in a compelling yet bothersome tale.
This is a tough review, as I am definitely jaded due to my love for the patriarch of the King household. That being said, I like Joe Hill. He’s not his dad, but his work stands on its own.