Heart-Shaped Box

Joe Hill
Heart-Shaped Box Cover

Heart-Shaped Box


An aging rock star buys a ghost over the internet.

That sounds like the kind of one sentence pitch that could get an instant green light from any Hollywood producer. Especially if it came from Joe Hill. That Mr. Hill is Stephen King's son is an open secret that both should and should not figure into one's reaction to his work. Since I have never read a Stephen King novel, I cannot draw the comparisons thousands of other readers must be making while reading this book. I just couldn't help but think of the blessing/curse conundrum Hill must face, and I also noticed that fathers in the book tended to be pretty horrendous people. Although one does come through in the end.

Jude Coyne is a 54 year old rocker of the Ozzy Osbourne sort, the extremely wealthy survivor of a band whose other members died either of AIDs or suicide. He lives in an idyllic country setting with a succession of girl friends half his age whom he refers to by their state of origin rather than their actual names. Despite that, he seems like a decent enough person. He likes dogs. He also feels the need to keep up his reputation for outrageousness, so when his secretary mentions that some one is auctioning off a ghost on an obscure web site, Coyne pushes the preemptive "Buy It Now" button. It arrives the in the eponymous heart-shaped box, which I have some trouble with. How do you fold a suit into a heart-shaped box, and how big would it have to be, and where would you come up with it? Fortunately, there are few chances for such niggling questions to slow down the narrative.

The ghost of course turns out to be real and quite unpleasant and tied to Coyne's past in an unfortunate way. It goes from sitting quietly in the hallway to chasing people down in its ghost pick-up truck. Coyne and his current lady, Georgia, make a trip South to put an end to the murderous haunting. It's a good enough story, but I never crossed my mind that it was scary. In fact, the ghost sitting in the hallway is the sort of thing I find much more unnerving that any of the elaborate set pieces Hill cooks up -- although an adolescent girl with a .45 is not someone you would ever want to run into. He also doesn't know how to end the thing, or maybe his editors take the same approach Hollywood producers do these days. After a perfectly good, bloody, over-the-top finale, we get another twenty pages or more of watching everything work out all right. Bonds are strengthened. Characters learn what is really important. Where is that phantom pick-up truck when you need it?