Heart-Shaped Box

Okay, I admit it. I picked up Heart-Shaped Box, not particularly because I’d heard good things about it (though I had) or because the subject was intriguing (though it was), but because the author, Joe Hill, is Stephen King’s son. I’m sorry, Mr. Hill. When you’re an up-and-coming author, that has to be an incredibly annoying thing to hear. Think of it as additional publicity — and is there any such thing as bad publicity?

The main character is Jude, formerly Judas Coyne (get it?), a violent rock star along the lines of Ozzy Osbourne or Marilyn Manson, to whom vulnerable young Goth women flock. He’s not a bad man, but not a very good one, either, and he has a taste for the occult. When he’s given the opportunity to “buy a ghost” on an online auction site, he jumps at the chance. But sorry — no refunds, no exchanges; when it becomes clear that he actually has bought a ghost, and that the ghost is malevolent in the extreme, it seems at first that Jude and his girlfriend of the moment have no recourse. The recourse they create is, of course, the story.

The first part of the book, when Jude has his first few encounters with the ghost, is so scary that I thought I might have to abandon the book for my own peace of mind. I had to turn lights on so I could be sure, really sure I didn’t have company. The middle portion is frightening, but at a mid-level that allows the reader to breathe and to sleep at night. The end is gory, powerful, and a bit ambiguous — good ways to end a horror novel, if a little cliched. The things I enjoyed more than the arc of the story were the small touches: the way Jude turns out to be a more interesting, more compassionate person than we think at first; the way his girlfriend is no dumb bunny after all; the role the dogs play, and the rules of the game. Overall, I thought the book was very good, and (Mr. Hill, please forgive the comparison) better than several of Stephen King’s books. Joe Hill has another book out, 20th Century Ghosts, and I look forward to getting it. It’s rare I read a new horror author I enjoy so much.

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8 Responses to Heart-Shaped Box

  1. Teresa says:

    I listened to this on audio last year, and at the time I didn’t know Joe Hill was Stephen King’s son. It was weird because I kept thinking, “Boy, this guy’s read a lot of Stephen King.” Ha! You’re right about that first part being almost unbearably scary. The situation just seemed too difficult, too intense–I was surprised he found a relatively convincing way out of the predicament!

  2. I just recently heard about this. I’m definitely not one for scary….anything really. But I really just want to read the book. Looks like I need to read it during the daytime though. LOL

    -Lauren

  3. A co-worker suggested this book to me and I’ve been considering reading it, but I confess I’m not one much for “gore.” While I’ve enjoyed Danielewski and Suzuki, horror really isn’t my genre, but sometimes it’s nice to get a thrill.

  4. Jenny says:

    Teresa — I was surprised, too. Sometimes I think horror authors (like any authors, really) have a tendency to squirm out of predicaments without really solving them. This one was good, and more interesting than I expected at first (if still a bit gory.)

    Lauren — It’s scary, all right! If you’re not much of a reader of scary things, I very much suggest you read the opening few chapters not just in daylight, but in company, and preferably outside. Once you’re in the middle of the book, you should be safe!

    bookchronicle — I haven’t read either of the novelists you name there. Would you call them horror? The House of Leaves is on my list, and I blush to say I’ve seen the American film adaptation of The Ring, but nothing else. Do you recommend them?

  5. Airizz says:

    err..Jude was formerly Johnny Cowzinsky as a boy. He changed his name to Judas Coyne as a rockstar and his nickname goes “Jude”. But he’s still Judas Coyne. :D

    That’s what I understood in the book.
    Good review anyway!

    :D

  6. Airizz says:

    This is a cool book! I’m a rock music lover so I easily relate to it.. and I enjoyed it. and perhaps I did also enjoy the morbid scenes. :D

    I think Hill doesn’t need to ride his dad’s coattails. He’s very good at making his own thing.

    It also has a tinge of Neil Gaiman in it, particularly Georgia’s character. it’s as if she’s modeled after the DC Comics character ‘Death’, wearing the ankhs and all that. Gaiman himself loved this book unreservedly.
    XD

  7. Jenny says:

    Airizz — When I said “formerly Judas Coyne,” I meant that Jude wasn’t performing or producing albums any longer. He wasn’t using his performance name, hence the formerly. But you’re right that even-more-formerly he was Jonny.

    Interesting observation about Georgia being a bit like Death. I wouldn’t have drawn the comparison, myself, since I can’t see Death getting quite so flustered at events, or having a Southern accent, but I can see some resemblance. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Anin says:

    lol. Edited the review after THAT comment ahahaha. Patronizing. Ew.

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