Heart-Shaped Box

Joe Hill
Heart-Shaped Box Cover

Heart-Shaped Box


This is a pretty powerful first novel for Stephen King's son Joe. 53 year old death metal rock star Judas Coyne collects morbid curios mostly for effect, in keeping with his dark reputation as lead in a former death metal band, and unwarily is manouvered into buying a suit haunted by its dead owner's ghost. Soon Judas discovers that the suit belonged to Craddock McDermott, the stepfather of one of Coyne's former groupie girlfriends, and his malignant ghost is seeking revenge for his stepdaughter's death after her return home when Jude got tired of her emotional problems. All is not as it seems, however, and the truth is gradually revealed in a fast-paced thrills and spills and blood drenched plot. That could be one of a hundred mundane stories, but where Hill does extremely well, especially so early in his career, is to set the theme of physical or sexual abuse solidly around complex, fleshed out characters to an unusual degree.This gives a credibility to the story despite wicked ghosts and blood soaked horror, so we have a sympathy for the characters, we care about what happens to them. Hill superbly controls the horror, never letting it submerge the vulnerable but courageous response of the hero and his girlfriend. This is a confident and excellent debut, haunting and memorable.Great characters, and a subtle depiction of the variety of ways people are affected by abuse. They can become clones of the abuser, or be weak and unable to integrate themselves as whole humans, or react by becoming wild reckless and self loathing, or like Jude, emotional cut off from others, drifting through life carelessly using up people, till guilt and depression, loneliness and despair begin to overwhelm him.

One thing I really liked about this book was the positive, happy ending. Too much horror has a downbeat ending. The evil returns, all has been in vain, and we end with hearing the dragging feet of the monster we thought destroyed coming up the stairs. Or the evil that decimated some small town goes off to wreak havoc elsewhere. The huge alligator is killed, but another baby one isalready beginning to grow in the sewers. So I liked the happy end to this book! Even though one vulnerable character is still very fragile, the book ends with at least some hope for her, and our main protagonists live happily ever after. Now thats my sort of story! :)

So, despite, as a wimp, not usually enjoying the horror genre, I was happy to make an exception in this case, as courage and kindness somehow manage to shine through the gore. Highly recommended.