20th Century Ghosts

Joe Hill’s short story “Best New Horror” is about a jaded horror editor who receives a terrifying short story submission that renews his faith in horror stories. The editor’s interest in the story leads him to seek out the author, a meeting that fans of horror will see coming a mile away, followed by a twist they won’t.

What interests me with “Best New Horror” is the horror story within the horror story, where Hill is careful to turn up the meta. Now, the casual writer would be smart enough not to tell the story that the editor gets so excited about and leave it up to the readers’ imagination; however, Hill is confident enough reveal the entire story from beginning to end with successful results. It’s a harrowing story, one that is strangely heartbreaking as well. It’s also a story that could easily stand on its own, which is probably why the editor’s framing story works too.

The real beauty of “Best New Horror” is in what the story ultimately says about the modern horror audience, particularly those who go out of their way looking for the next great scare. The editor’s apathy towards his work has little to do with the declining quality of horror literature, but rather the absence of frights, like a junkie desperately seeking to recapture that first high. The meta-commentary comes into play with the story’s ending, where it flirts with the alarming psychological longing for a horror story to come to life. This I’d-know-what-to-do attitude horror fans have that compels them to shout at the screen or gloat over their Facebook “Will you survive a zombie apocalypse?” quiz results…in other words, they fantasize about the possibility of being in these horrifying situations, as it would allow them better control over their environment then they have currently.

Anyway, if you appreciate an interesting take on why people are attracted to horror fiction, then this is the story for you. Though, if you have issues with pins and eyelids…this might not be your thing.

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