Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Two Reviews for the Price of One

This week, I finished two books, so I thought I'd just review them at once. Let the reviewing begin!

First off: Joe Hill's debut short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts, which came out in 2005. Joe Hill is Stephen King's son, and like his famous father, he writes horror with a humane edge - fantastical stories that aren't afraid to also explore the emotions of their characters. This book lives up to its title, with its ghosts and nightmarish premises and fantasy-heavy concepts. But there are three reasons to pick up a copy of this book, and they're the three best stories in the collection. The title story, "20th Century Ghosts," is as good a meditation on loss and love and obsession as you can find. Hill manages to make it scary and beautiful at the same time, not an easy combination. Meanwhile, "Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead," is a zombie story without zombies; it has nothing to do with real horror at all, in fact. Instead, it's a bittersweet and well-done meditation on second chances.

Then, there is the story that totally makes this collection worth its weight: "Pop Art." The premise is bizarre, where a small number of inflatable people live among us like regular folk. But the story's heart lies in the narrator's boyhood friendship with Art, an inflatable child doomed to meet a bad end. There are a lot of short stories out there about having and losing a childhood friend, but to me, this one rang particularly true. It's absolutely wonderful. I urge everyone to find a copy of the book and just read this one story.


The other book I finished this week was Li-Young Lee's The City in Which I Love You. It always amazes me that Lee manages to create such powerful poems and images out of such quiet and unobtrusive language. That's something that maybe one in a thousand poets can pull off. Lee's poems are ridiculously sensual (and I mean that in two ways: they are very much rooted in the five senses AND some of them have an intensely sexual bent to them), and they always manage to both unnerve me and lull me at the same time. This collection is a couple decades old by now, but the poems take place in a kind of timeless haze. The language is precise, soft, and careful, as if Lee is slowly pulling them out of himself. For me, the book's highlights are "My Father, In Heaven, Is Reading Out Loud," "This Room and Everything in It," "The Waiting," "A Story," and of course, "This Hour and What is Dead." It's no wonder that Lee is considered one of the masters of contemporary poet, and with a major fanbase to boot. He can add one more to the list.

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