Book 4 of my March to 100 for 2019—Joe Hill: Heart-Shaped Box—The dead pull the living down in a vivid horror story of the past catching up.
I have enjoyed many of Joe Hill’s books—notably The Fireman and Horns are quite unique—but I’ll admit that the Heart-Shaped Box, his debut, is not my favorite. But, hang on, let me tell you why and that might explain why you will like the book (we all have different tastes)—the book is quite visual in its horror.
You see, I am a fan of horror when it lurks in the shadows, but not so much when it grabs you by the throat. And this novel certainly reaches for the throat. The visual scenes are described in minute detail. At times, it felt like I was reading the special effects descriptions from a movie. With lots and lots and lots of blood, of course.
The protagonist, Jude Coyne, is an aging rock star who treats everyone poorly, including a countless line of groupie girlfriends who share his bed. And you know from the opening lines of the novel that he is going on a journey of self-discovery and—possibly—redemption, whether he is eager to drive down that road or not.
He discovers a ghost for sale online and impulsively buys it. And, of course, he comes to regret this purchase because buying the ghost allows it to haunt him (sort of like inviting a vampire into your house). Okay, I get the device though I couldn’t figure out why a quite mobile ghost—one who can travel the entire Eastern U.S.—has to be invited to create havoc, but I’ll accept it.
The best part of the story is the human side—why Coyne became a rock star and why he cares so little for others, why both his current girlfriend and a former girlfriend put up with his ways, and why he needs to confront his past. In Hill’s later books, this strength grows, but you can see it even in this debut.
On this journey, Coyne, his girlfriend, and (warning to dog lovers out there) his dogs are repeatedly put into harm’s way as Coyne tries to eradicate the ghost from his life. And, more importantly, as Coyne confronts the “ghosts” of his misdeeds and callousness over the years.
Horror fans will enjoy it. Joe Hill fans will like it. But, if you haven’t read anything by Joe Hill yet, I would suggest starting with a later novel like The Fireman.
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