Thursday, October 21, 2010

Short Story Thursday: "20th Century Ghost" & "Pop Art" by Joe Hill

"20th Century Ghost" & "Pop Art" by Joe Hill (from 20th Century Ghosts)

Alec Sheldon first saw the ghost of Imogene Gilchrist when he was 15. He became obsessed, bought the movie theater she appeared in and collected stories of sightings. He could tell the made up stories from the real ones. Imogene had loved movies. She was nineteen when she died. Many people have been touched by Imogene's ghost, their lives taking them in directions they may or may not have gone otherwise.

The theater isn't doing so well anymore and soon may face closure. Alec wonders what will happen to Imogene if the doors close for the final time . . .

I've said it before and I will say it again: I just love Joe Hill's writing style. I have come to appreciate short stories the more I read them and Joe Hill only enhances that appreciation. The short story, "20th Century Ghost", has all the elements I like in a short story: good characterization, an interesting setting and a great story, at once full of a quiet suspense and thoughtfulness. There are several little pop culture references, some less obvious than others that I found amusing.

With this story, the author offers a different side to his imagination. This is not a horror story rather something else all together--and to say exactly what would spoil the ending. I read the last line with a smile on my face and a little tear in the corner of my eye.

"Pop Art" is yet another different sort of story. I'm not sure calling it a ghost story is appropriate. Art Roth is the narrator's best friend and confidant. He's also inflatable. Art is unable to talk (no mouth) and so must rely on writing his thoughts down. He wears a pad of paper around his neck and carries crayons in his pocket for just this purpose. Art is picked on at school because of his special nature. He's different and vulnerable.

The two make a good match--one tough and a loner and the other ostracized by his condition. The two met in sixth grade and spent much of their time talking--well, one talked, and the other wrote notes. The narrator comes from a dysfunctional home, his dad mean and a deadbeat. Art's parents are musicians and supportive. One day a terrible incident occurs leaving Art less than what he once was. It burns his friend that he was unable to stop it. Art, who has always been obsessed with death, knows his day is coming.

The story may seem silly on the surface, but it carries with it very serious themes. While at times funny, Art's story is a sad one. In real life, he could be that child who is forced to face bullies everyday for being different, worn down by the pressures and stresses he faced every day. In this story, I also saw a narrator who was lonely and afraid, trying to be tough on the outside.

It crossed my mind that Art was perhaps just an imaginary friend and the narrator was telling us his own story, but the story is not written that way. And that makes it all the more interesting.

Read for the Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P.) Challenge.

© 2010, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. These stories sound good! And speaking of short stories I haven't been reading them lately for the RIP Challenge since my mood doesn't call for it. Sad to say this will be another reading challenge that I'll fail to complete. *sigh*

  2. Joe Hill is great. I love THE HEART SHAPED BOX and I have this as well. I'm glad you're liking short stories more and more. I'm learning to like them.

  3. How funny..I'm reading this book now and I'm actually on the 2nd story, 20th Century Ghost. Ironic don't you think?

    This is my first attempt by the author, although I also own The Heart Shaped Box. I don't read a lot of short stories so I'm not totally crazy about this book yet, but hoping as I get further into it that will change.

  4. Melody - I haven't picked up this book since reading these stories--I do need to do that. Fortunately with short story books, setting them aside for a spell doesn't ruin my enjoyment of it.

    I understand needing to be in the mood to read stuff like this. Read what you want when you want--it isn't work, right? :-)

    Alice - I hope you will enjoy this collection, Alice! So far, I'm enjoying it.

    Kris - I need to pick it back up again and read more of the stories. It's great that you and I were reading it at the same time. Have you finished it yet or are you like me, taking your time?

  5. I actually finished the book, read it cover to cover instead of just a story at a time. I was buddy reading it with a couple of friends though, otherwise I might have just read a couple stories, stopped, read something else, read a couple, etc.

    Overall I liked it..hopefully you do too.


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