Monthly Archives: February 2008

Steven Millhauser, "The Disappearance of Elaine Coleman"

A guy obsesses over the mysterious vanishing of a woman he barely knew. A woman nobody seemed to know.

(from Dangerous Laughter)

This story has some interesting things to say, I think, about the need for a sense of common civility between people, to not ignore them or avoid them or let them simply fade away. We should feel obligated to keep everybody in the game. But it also hints at an extreme side effect of this proposed hard-wired empathy, that we become ravenous ghouls, hungry for mystery and grim truth, even about people we never met. And that’s, seriously, how we end up with vultures like TMZ and Nancy Grace, pecking at skeletons for every last morsel of meat, gaining sustenance by embracing only that which is as dead and ugly as the world that made them. We can do better, people.

Joe Hill, "20th Century Ghost"

A talkative ghost pops up in a movie theater once in a while.

(from 20th Century Ghosts)

Downside: The prose is really wordy and inelegant. The characters are paper thin. The plot is really just an idea. The extended italicized passages are difficult to read and unnecessarily annoying, seeing as how highlight+opt+i would have fixed it.
The idea is a memorable one. The pace is quick. There are some satisfying surprises and neat images. The ending is beautiful and meaningless.
OK, I’ll keep swinging away at this anthology. I had heard good things about Joe Hill, and I’m not quite on board, but with this one he’s earned further investigation.

Joe Hill, "Best New Horror"

A horror editor tries to track down the author of a particularly horrific and alluring story.

(from 20th Century Ghosts)

Meta can be fun but let’s not pretend it’s not easier than straight-up creation. “Best New Horror” is insidery, playing with form and the popular culture surrounding it (including a visit to a horror con with zero sarcastic observations). Our narrator, Eddie Carroll, is exhaustingly described as an expert in all things horror/fantasy/murder fiction, but as to whether he’s a whole person with interesting thoughts I’m not so sure. He’s an archetype on a collision course with the inevitable end. That Hill is apparently conscious of this, that he made this decision with the express purpose of commenting on the form, doesn’t make me want to forgive a whole lot. Because, meta-horror is still horror and meta is still easy.
I know, I know, this is genre fiction — dig your plot and bury yourself in it. But the intro to this anthology, the part of it I could read without feeling like it was a spoiler fest, was a standing ovation to Joe Hill’s skillz as a literary horror guy. And the story itself echoed that promise, in a way, with the mysterious Peter Kilrue’s crude fiction coming recommended by the editor of a “serious” litmag.
So, yeah, this story had a decidedly undecided (read: literary:( ) ending, but I guess I was expecting something written a little tighter, or something where I bought what the author was selling. The New York Times praised Hill’s “nervy” critiquing of his chosen genre, but I don’t see it that way. You (and our narrator) would have to be stupid not to get bored reading story after story about vampire sex.
That said, the horror world is largely unknown to me — and Hill kept me mostly entertained and often curious about where it was all going — so I expect I’ll give this collection a few more chances to kick my ass.