Short Story Review - Pop Art

Saturday 7 September 2019

Pop Art

Who wrote it?
Joseph Hillstrom King, better known by the pen name Joe Hill, is an American author and comic book writer. His work includes the novels Heart-Shaped Box (2007), Horns (2010), NOS4A2 (2013), and The Fireman (2016); and the short story collections 20th Century Ghosts (2005) and Strange Weather (2017).

What’s it about?
Image result for pop art joe hill‘Pop Art’ is one of my favourite short stories from Joe Hill’s collection 20th Century Ghosts. The story introduces us to the character of Arthur Roth, a young boy who has been born inflatable. This is a surreal concept that is shared with the reader in a prosaic fashion.

Why is it worth reading?
This story surprised me on an emotional level. I suppose, reading Joe Hill’s short stories, when I know he’s an author with a well-earned reputation in the horror genre, I was primed to be surprised because I wasn’t expecting something that was going to have sufficient sensitivity to make an emotional impact. But this was eloquent, powerful, witty and heart-breaking.

What’s so special about it?

These are the opening lines from the story:
My best friend when I was twelve was inflatable. His name was Arthur Roth, which also made him an inflatable Hebrew, although in our now-and-then talks about the afterlife, I don’t remember that he took an especially Jewish perspective. Talk was mostly what we did – in his condition rough-house was out of the question – and the subject of death, and what might follow it, came up more than once. I think Arthur knew he would be lucky to survive high school. When I met him, he had already almost been killed a dozen times, once for every year he had been alive. The afterlife was always on his mind; also the possible lack of one.

What I love about this is that it works on so many different levels. Hill introduces us to a character who is described as ‘inflatable’, and whilst we’re thinking that’s probably quite a remarkable feature – and we’re trying to work out whether ‘inflatable’ in this sense is literal or figurative – the narrator is digressing to talk about something as mundane as Arthur’s religion.
I think I was particularly moved by this story because it has a surreal premise that is supported by a very real-world context of bullying, friendship, compassion and salvation. The juxtaposition of the sublime and the ridiculous give the story a devastating power.

This is a link to a short film that has been made of the story:  It’s a faithful adaptation but the short story has far more depth.

And, if you have dreams to write to this standard, please take a look at my book, How To Write Short Stories and Get Them Published:


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