In his introduction to Joe Hill's superior collection 20th Century Ghosts, Christopher Golden laments the fact that Hill popped up as a writer "fully formed." He marvels at Hill's maturity in tone and style and the broad scope of his thematic treatments.
He even professes in print his fleeting urge to whoop Joe's ass, the writing is that good.
We all have that feeling sometimes, don't we? I get sick with envy every time I read "The Lottery" and "The End of the Whole Mess" and "The Yellow Wallpaper." Those tales are so staggeringly rich, so perfectly balanced and formed, that it's almost depressing when you look at the blinking cursor and it's time to get some work done.
Still, as King's pop says in On Writing, we read to experience the spectrum of what's possible--both in the good and the bad.
I've written before that I usually read the collection Nightmares & Dreamscapes every year, and I think 20th Century Ghosts might be another yearly visitation as well. The collection is consistent, haunting and thoroughly memorable.
Like Golden, I really enjoyed "Pop Art," a story about the outsiders we've all known through the years. Let's face it--an inflatable life is hard. But Art makes due, managing to touch the lives of others in a way that is so sweet that the last five paragraphs constitute a textbook example in how to bring a tale to its most fruitful resolution.
"My Father's Mask" is a chilling story that takes a few days to reconcile. It's a fairy tale, but exceedingly dark. The story is about that fine line between adolescence and adulthood--about how well we really know the people in our lives who have shaped our personalities and beliefs. In many ways, it reminds me of Joyce Carol Oates's "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" and Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown." The exchange with the appraiser in the third act is sad--so redolent with change and loss that you'll lament this one for just a little while.
"Voluntary Committal" goes into my all-time anthology. It's a novella about assuaging the mistakes of our youth. Consider all the things you wish you could take away: all the wrongs you've done others, all the hurt you've instilled upon those who've trusted you, all the chances you passed that you wished you'd taken. Think about all of those things and then ask yourself:
What would you change if you could go back?
For our narrator Nolan, the answer to that question rests in a sealed manila envelope in the lower right drawer of his office desk.
Hill really is an accomplished stylist. I enjoyed Heart-Shaped Box but, thus far, his best writing is illustrated in the short form.
If you're looking for inspiration of the type that stems from creative appreciation, pick up Hill's collection.