A to Z Reviews: “The Hat in the Hall,” by Jack Iams

A to Z Reviews: “The Hat in the Hall,” by Jack Iams

A to Z Reviews

Jack Iams published “The Hat in the Hall” in the August 1950 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and it is an example of a story that has dated poorly. Set in the aftermath of a cocktail party in which Charles and Jane Mattson are cleaning up the mess left behind, Iams describes the couple emptying ashtrays, finding hats left behind by their guests, and, most egregious, commenting that one of their friends, Jim, is “a pretty careful driver, even when he’s stewed.”

Although the party is a success, it was also loud, which is why Charles stopped by their next door neighbor, Mrs. Oliver, to apologize the next morning. Oliver had called to complain about the noise a couple of times during the party, but it was only during his visit that Charles realizes that they were holding the party on the anniversary of her husband’s death. What surprised Charles was Mrs. Oliver’s explanation that her husband’s ghost always visited her on the anniversary of his death, but the noise from the party seemed to have kept him away.

Cover by George Salter

The story is short, and from that point, it turns into a pretty typical ghost story, the sort of ghost story that would be immortalized in Dickey Lee’s 1965 song “Laurie (Strange Things Happen),” several years after Iams’ story was published. Although the story may have been shiver inducing when it was first published, its impact is muted nearly three-quarters of a century after it was published. To a modern reader, the story comes across as a slight diversion from a land with strange customs.

Although Iams did not publish much science fiction or fantasy (this story is his only listing in ISFDB), he has a moderately successful career writing about private investigator Stanley Rockwell across nine novels as well as a few additional novels.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a twenty-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for eight years. He has also edited books for DAW, NESFA Press, and ZNB. His most recent anthology is Alternate Peace and his novel After Hastings was published in 2020. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference six times. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.

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Rich Horton

A story that I’ve read! And even reviewed here at Black Gate. My verdict is not dissimilar to yours: ““The Hat in the Hall” is a brief and entertaining piece about the aftermath of a party, in which the hosts find an unclaimed hat and ask a neighbor whose it might be. The answer is of course the fantastical element. Minor but worth its 1500 or so words.”

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