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When I briefly went back to my old book store job earlier this year, I heard a lot of good things about Joe Hill's two novels, Heart-Shaped Box and the recent Horns. I remember seeing an advance copy of Heart-Shape Box back when the bookstore was my main job, and I didn't snag it because I assumed it was bad, because it was 'horror' fiction. Pff, silly me.

After reading a very disarming interview with Joe in the AV Club a few months ago, I picked up his first release, 20th Century Ghosts, a collection of short stories that won the Bram Stoker award a few years ago. I just read the first story, "Best New Horror," and wow, I'm scared to the point where I'm laughing and shaking at the same time. It's about the editor of a fairly well-read yearly horror anthology, sick of the same-y nature of all of the lame stories that he finds in his mailbox daily. (There's a spot-on mention of all of the 'vampires having sex with vampires' stories he has to wade through.) But he ends up reading a story so original, vulgar and brain-shattering that he must publish it. And things go wildly downhill from there.

I shan't ramble more about how much I enjoyed the story, but if they're all this engaging, I'm sure I'll love this collection. He writes a bit like his dad, but seems to have a better filter (the lack of which seems to curse much of Stephen's work).

Anyone else read him? I'm glad to see horror genre fiction getting good critical response, too.

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When I briefly went back to my old book store job earlier this year, I heard a lot of good things about Joe Hill's two novels, Heart-Shaped Box and the recent Horns. I remember seeing an advance copy of Heart-Shape Box back when the bookstore was my main job, and I didn't snag it because I assumed it was bad, because it was 'horror' fiction. Pff, silly me.

After reading a very disarming interview with Joe in the AV Club a few months ago, I picked up his first release, 20th Century Ghosts, a collection of short stories that won the Bram Stoker award a few years ago. I just read the first story, "Best New Horror," and wow, I'm scared to the point where I'm laughing and shaking at the same time. It's about the editor of a fairly well-read yearly horror anthology, sick of the same-y nature of all of the lame stories that he finds in his mailbox daily. (There's a spot-on mention of all of the 'vampires having sex with vampires' stories he has to wade through.) But he ends up reading a story so original, vulgar and brain-shattering that he must publish it. And things go wildly downhill from there.

I shan't ramble more about how much I enjoyed the story, but if they're all this engaging, I'm sure I'll love this collection. He writes a bit like his dad, but seems to have a better filter (the lack of which seems to curse much of Stephen's work).

Anyone else read him? I'm glad to see horror genre fiction getting good critical response, too.

I read him. I loved "Best New Horror," but the real masterpiece of that book is "Pop Art". One of the best short stories I've ever read.

In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. -- Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

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I read him. I loved "Best New Horror," but the real masterpiece of that book is "Pop Art". One of the best short stories I've ever read.

I've heard nothing but good things about the story; it's next up, too. I just finished the second story in the bunch, "20th Century Ghost" — it was sad, almost pretty, but was still rooted in the uneasiness of traditional ghost tales. Fantastic stuff, almost made me tear up.

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Scott was right: "Pop Art" is unlike anything else I've read. As a whole, the collection doesn't really have a flop, either. Sure, there are some merely OK stories, and occasional phrases sounded a little too much like his dad, but I was pretty impressed. I was impressed that while much of the collection was 'standard' horror, a fair portion strayed into 'weird fiction' and 'lit. fiction' territory. The closing novella, "Voluntary Commitment," was outstanding (if a little graphic), and was both touching and incredibly, incredibly eerie.

So, I'm looking forward to reading Hill's novels.

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Jason, thank you for mentioning this guy and making me aware of his writing; I picked up the short story collection a couple weeks back and have been enjoying it very much. What impresses me about this guy is how he can take what is clearly an exhaustive knowledge of the horror genre-- as seen best in meta-stories like "Best New Horror"-- but use it in something that's really heartfelt, with undercurrents of melancholy and emotion, not mere irony or cleverness for cleverness' sake.

My wife picked up the book one night and turned to a random story-- "Pop Art," funnily enough-- and liked it enough that we picked up a copy of Heart-Shaped Box just last week.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Did anyone read 20th Century Ghosts in audio form? If I threw in the towel on Heart Shaped Box -- and I did -- should I bother with Ghosts? I just had three long-awaited audiobooks come through at the library (when it rains, it pours), and still have 20th Century Ghosts on the shelf at home. I need a good reason to push it to the top of the list rather than return it.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Did anyone read 20th Century Ghosts in audio form? If I threw in the towel on Heart Shaped Box -- and I did -- should I bother with Ghosts? I just had three long-awaited audiobooks come through at the library (when it rains, it pours), and still have 20th Century Ghosts on the shelf at home. I need a good reason to push it to the top of the list rather than return it.

Perhaps coincidentally (started listening mostly because of the praises I read here), I'm listening to it now. I almost stopped after "Best New Horror" (I'm not much of a horror fan), but the next few stories were different enough in tone to suck me in. "Pop Art", especially, deserves the attention it's getting. I don't have many points of reference when it comes to the genre, but the prose and subject matter has reminded me on multiple occasions of the few Neil Gaiman stories I've read.

The audiobook production isn't the best I've heard. The reader, David LeDoux, has distinctive vocal inflections that are sometimes grating, and a non-subtle "horror" musical queue keeps popping up at entirely inappropriate times (what works for "Best New Horror" doesn't necessarily work for "Pop Art"). That said, LeDoux is great with voices and characterization. Overall, it's worth the listen, as the material is fascinating and varied and has so far overcome whatever squeamishness or annoyance I've felt. Don't know if I'd want to read Hill's novels afterwards, though. Right now I'm about a third of the way through "In the Rundown" and enjoying everything to a certain extent (even "Best New Horror" has grown on me, in retrospect,

as the satire becomes more apparent

). Which of the stories do his novels lean most towards in tone?

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Thanks. I can't answer your question, not having read more than one-third of one of his novels, but I did go ahead and start into disc 1 on the drive home. I like it! So far. The reader hasn't annoyed me yet, and I haven't picked up on those music cues you mentioned, but I'll be on my guard.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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So, after rereading this thread, it seems like almost everyone is starting with 20th Century Ghosts before moving on to the novels. ::blush:: Guess I'll wait to see what the reaction is later.

One aspect I'm enjoying about the stories is how Hill keeps subverting my own expectations for horror stories without making the collection seem like an insincere meta genre deconstruction. As a non-spoilery example: "In the Rundown", which I just finished last night, features characters making a few choices that left me groaning throughout the story...but everything plays out in a different direction. Also, he writes the child characters that pop up in most stories with a refreshing subtlety.

The audiobook production continues to annoy me. I think it's just me. I should probably just find a physical copy of the book. :)

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  • 1 month later...

So, what's the word on Hill's Horns? I'm about to give the audiobook a whirl.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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So, what's the word on Hill's Horns? I'm about to give the audiobook a whirl.

Haven't read it yet, but here are the two reviews I remembered reading:

-The AV Club (very positive)

-The NY Times (fairly positive)

That Times review is impressive, and has me thinking I bailed too soon on Heart-Shaped Box.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Just read the AV Club review, and was encouraged by this:

Joe Hill’s first novel, Heart-Shaped Box, was a solid horror outing that failed to live up to the promise of his debut short-story collection, 20th Century Ghosts. Horns is more confident and unexpected, taking risks in chronology and perspective for a narrative that starts off as dark comedy before becoming something richer and more affecting. As with Ghosts, Hill’s willingness to run with a supernatural concept without falling into predictable patterns keeps what could’ve been a simple revenge story from becoming stale.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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  • 1 month later...

Horns left a bad taste. Its strength, I think, is its back story about Lee and Ig as kids, and the debt one feels he owes to the other. The present-tense stuff about the horns is the stuff of a short story, not a novel -- or not this novel, at any rate. The novel was ugly and dull, IMO.

Bad, bad taste.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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  • 9 months later...

Just read the AV Club review, and was encouraged by this:

Joe Hill’s first novel, Heart-Shaped Box, was a solid horror outing that failed to live up to the promise of his debut short-story collection, 20th Century Ghosts. Horns is more confident and unexpected, taking risks in chronology and perspective for a narrative that starts off as dark comedy before becoming something richer and more affecting. As with Ghosts, Hill’s willingness to run with a supernatural concept without falling into predictable patterns keeps what could’ve been a simple revenge story from becoming stale.

I finished Heart Shaped Box, having given it a second shot recently. I pressed ahead and got through it, but I never liked it and was never frightened by any of it (I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Stephen Lang). I conclude that Hill excels in the short story format, but should steer clear of novels.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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  • 1 year later...

Joe Hill didn't make our thread on titles we're excited about in the coming year, and after Horns, who can blame us?

But the upcoming Hill title did make this list of sci-fi and fantasy books to look out for in 2013:

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

A new horror-suspense novel from the author of Heart-Shaped Box and Horns, and the writer of Locke and Key. Victoria McQueen, a kid who has a talent for finding things, gets kidnapped by the sinister Charles Talent Manx, who sends children to a strange and horrifying place called Christmasland — and then Victoria escapes, and moves on with her life. Until years later, when Manx kidnaps Victoria's young son.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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