I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night…

Not the labour leader and songwriter, though. A different kind of writer.

I’ve been on a Joe Hill binge, lately. It started with the comic collection Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft, which I picked up because I liked the name and the art. It was a great story, very creepy and with a nice grounding touch of the mundane mixed in. This is, I think, of absolute importance with horror and modern fantasy: there needs to be enough of the mundane mixed in so that the horrific/fantastic elements stand out. Anyway, as I said, I really liked the comic and went looking for more information on the writer.

Turns out he’s got the next volume of the comic collection out: Locke & Key: Head Games. He’s also got a collection of short stories called 20th Century Ghosts and a novel called Heart Shaped Box.

So I bought and read them all.

Well, to be fair, I listened to the audio books for Ghosts and Box. But you get the idea.

I really, really like his stuff. He does amazingly good ghost stories, because he sticks with the idea of the uncanny and how it can affect us in so many ways, rather than just going right for the screamers.

He can do the screamers, too, as evidenced in Box. But he’s got more than that in his trick box.

I’m jumping all over the place. Here. Let me settle down and tell you a little about the stuff of his I’ve read.

  • Ghosts is one of the most varied, interesting, inspiring, and enjoyable collections of stories I’ve read. Not everything is a ghost story, and not every ghost story is scary. He can mix do charming innocence in a piece like Better Than Home without it getting cloying or naive. He can do cynical, self-aware horror in Best New Horror without you minding the fact that you know how it’s going to turn out. And he can pile on the weird and surreal in things like Pop Art and My Father’s Mask in a way that makes it seem like it fits in with reality. It’s a wonderful, heady mix of stories. I don’t like them all equally, but neither will you, and our tastes will vary.
  • Box is one of the best ghost stories that I’ve every read. Ever. There is a wonderful layering of history and backstory, strong characters (both living and dead), twisted secrets and motivations, some great scares and some more even greater creep-outs. It also has a strongly-hopeful tone to it, as you come to realize that its regrets even more than ghosts that are haunting the main character, and his quest to be free of the haunting is really a story of a man trying to find redemption and peace with his past. Does he make it? I can’t really tell you. Sometimes, as I think of the ending, I say yes, and sometimes I say no. And I love that.
  • Locke is a solid horror/modern fantasy comic. I loved the first collection, but felt the second collection didn’t have as strong a story to it. I mean, reading Head Games, it’s obvious that the book is setting the stage for what happens next: it’s a transitional episode, moving the major playing pieces into place. A few of the mysteries raised in Welcome to Lovecraft get… well, not really resolved, but you start to see the shape of them. So, because the story is not as self-contained in Head Games, it lacks the impact. I’m guessing, based on the track record, that this will take care of itself as the series progresses. I’m looking forward to the next collection.

One thing I noticed is that Hill deals with a lot of fathers in his writing. Many of them have powerful impacts on their children, for good or ill – they are powerful figures, even if they’re not always benevolent, whether through presence or absence. Their existence twists and shapes the stories they’re in. It crops up enough that I started to think of it as a theme, but that may be metathinking on my part.

See, we need to talk about the elephant in the room. Joe Hill’s father is Stephen King. And I have to wonder what sort of impact having Stephen King for a father must have on a writer’s work. So, you see, I may be imposing my own speculation on the writing, creating a theme that exists only in my head.

But you know what, Joe? I don’t care who your daddy is. I like his stuff a lot, but that’s not why I read yours. Why I will continue to read your stuff.

I read it because it’s good.

Tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.