A collection of pleasantly creepy stories follows Hill’s debut novel (Heart Shaped Box, 2007).
Published in a number of magazines from 2001 to the present, most of the stories display the unself-conscious dash that made Hill’s novel an intelligent pleasure. In addition to the touches of the supernatural, some heavy, some light, the stories are largely united by Hill’s mastery of teenaged-male guilt and anxiety, unrelieved by garage-band success or ambition. One of the longest and best, “Voluntary Committal,” is about Nolan, a guilty, anxious high-school student, Morris, his possibly autistic or perhaps just congenitally strange little brother, and Eddie, Nolan’s wild but charming friend. Morris, whose problems dominate but don’t completely derail his family’s life, spends the bulk of his time in the basement creating intricate worlds out of boxes. Eddie and Nolan spend their time in accepted slacker activities until Eddie, whose home life is rough, starts pushing the edges, leading to real mischief, a big problem for Nolan who would rather stay within the law. It’s Morris who removes the problem for the big brother he loves, guaranteeing perpetual guilt and anxiety for Nolan. “My Father’s Mask” is a surprisingly romantic piece about a small, clever family whose weekend in an inherited country place involves masks, time travel and betrayal. The story least reliant on the supernatural may leave the most readers pining for a full-length treatment: “Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead” reunites a funny but failed standup comedian with his equally funny ex-high school sweetheart Harriet, now married and a mother. Bobby has come back to Pittsburgh, tail between his legs, substitute teaching and picking up the odd acting job, and it is on one of those gigs, a low-budget horror film, that the couple reconnects, falling into their old comedic rhythms.
Not just for ghost addicts.