3.31.2008

Joe Hill

If you've been monitoring the graphic to the right, you know I've spent the last couple of days in the company of the stories of Joe Hill.

And fine company it is, to be sure.

I enjoyed Heart-Shaped Box. The pacing was excellent and the novel was laced with many genuinely scary moments. Jude, the story's protagonist, is a round character in every sense of the word. Flawed but talented. Eccentric but pragmatic when the occasion dictates. I really enjoyed the tender development of the relationship between Jude and Georgia, a character I initially thought would have been relegated to the sidelines. Hill's deft touch with communicating human tragedy--sexual and physical abuse most prominently--speaks to his power of observation. While the story is good here, it's the characters that make this a rewarding read.

I also really enjoy Hill's prose voice. His writing is beautiful--lyrical and literary without feeling the need to climb the diction ladder. Much of this effect comes from his knack for description. He bends adjectives and stretches verbs in a fashion that results in eloquent phrasing. In this way, his style reminds me a little of Cormac McCarthy's.

Heart-Shaped Box is good. It deserves its accolades and I'll put it up there with the best novels I've read in the last three years (though not quite on par with The Road, or even with Duma Key, for that matter)...It's very good, but not nearly as strong as his short fiction.

His short fiction, collected in 20th Century Ghosts, is staggering in its impact.

Not since I read Writer of the Purple Rage have I so enjoyed the content of the stories. Not since I read The Stories of John Cheever have I so admires the authorial voice. And not since I read Where I'm Calling From have I found such a consistently excellent body of work.

"Best New Horror" kicks things off. The premise is great--a weary editor finds that rare, transcendent voice in the genre that renews his passion for reading. Unfortunately, this author has his own demons. Hill's ironic story plays with lots of horror cliches without once stooping to caricature. And the conclusion! The man knows how to end a story...

"You Will Hear the Locust Sing" is an excellent blend of surreal fiction (strong nod to Kafka) with the detritus of life in America in the last twenty years. The protagonist, a confused but euphoric teenager that seems to embody all the traits of America's youth in the 21st Century, is both horrific and sympathetic.

"The Cape" is a unique look at squandered opportunity. "The Black Phone" is a brutal look at child predators and the just desserts that await them on the other side.

But like I said before, he really knows how to end it. And his last one here is amazing. "Voluntary Committal" is so perfect a story--so balanced in its narrative nuance and fantastic content--that it immediately elevates to the top half-dozen shorts I've ever read. I'd put it up there with "The Yellow Wallpaper." I'd put it up there with "The Lottery." I'd put it up there with "Cathedral." I'd put it up there with "The End of the Whole Mess."

If you haven't picked up this collection, I think you have an errand to attend to.

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