In his introduction, Christopher Golden (who, by the way, collaborated on The Complete Stephen King Universe: A Guide to the Worlds of Stephen King with Stanley Wiater, if you're interested) said that Joe Hill is a master of subtlety in the way that he tells stories. And it's true. His stories all have a soft, surreal feel, and they spoke to me in a different way than most other short stories I've ever read, including his father's. These stories feel like they are told from the outside in, spiraling down in a way that makes the reader part storyteller. Joe Hill writes so that you catch little glimpses of the story, but much of it is left to the reader to fill in. This, while being a talent that is immensely hard to come by, I'm sure, is also why I can't give the book 5 stars.
It's true that Hill is fabulously subtle. And I do love being pulled into a story and made part of it. The mystery isn't just for the characters anymore, now it's for us. But, I just felt like there should be more STORY. Many of these, to me, felt like they were beautifully written snapshots in time. They didn't really feel like they had a beginning, a middle or an end, they just were. This is a wonderful change of pace from most short stories that just start at Point A and hurtle along for 30 pages to Point B, and I cannot say that I did not enjoy them, but I wanted to feel like there was a purpose to them as well, aside from just being an entertaining way to spend a few minutes.
It could be that I'm missing the point. It wouldn't be the first time. I'm not an expert at recognizing metaphorical symbolism, I'll be the first to admit that. But these are short stories, and so they should be entertaining as well as leave the reader with a feeling of fulfilled satisfaction after they are done. I'm not saying that they need to be wrapped up with a nice red bow and handed to the reader on a silver platter with "Beginning", "Middle", "End", and "Main Point" tags, but I just feel like maybe there was too much subtlety and not enough story, in some of these.
But even though I say that, I DID enjoy this book. The stories were wonderfully well written, even the ones that left me wanting, or even comfused. Joe Hill has no shortage of talent, that's for sure.
"Pop Art" was so sweet and touching and honest that we forget that the premise of the story could not possibly be real. A live plastic inflatable boy? Nah! But after the initial "Huh?" wears off, and we get into the story, we don't see that anymore, and he's just a boy who is a little different. This was my favorite story, which seems to be common among the readers of this book. But I'm not surprised, because this is a wonderful story that touches that part of us that wants to be accepted and loved for that which makes us different and who we really are.
"Voluntarily Committed" was my second favorite story. I think I really have a soft spot for stories about innocents who have developmental problems. This story reminded me, at least as far as the brothers and their relationship was concerned, with another favorite story, which I highly recommend to any who are willing to give it a try, I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb. I loved Morris, and felt very protective of him. I thought that this was HIS story, even though his brother's telling was about an event, and how it affected himself. I just have to wonder, where does Morris's box-tunnel REALLY go?
"Best New Horror" is really the only horror story in the book. I really enjoyed it, and the story within the story, and the story we are left to finish on our own. Very nice, and very creepy.
"My Father's Mask" was another that I really enjoyed for what was there, but wanted more to explain the details. This is one that really felt like we only got to see a little corner of the larger story that could be, and I wanted more.
These were some of my favorite stories. I enjoyed all of them to a point, and loved how baseball, and parental relationships, and ghosts (both "actual" and personal) weave throughout the stories in this book. I can't wait to see where Hill's career takes him. One can only hope that it is as successful and long-lasting as his father's has been.