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Heart-Shaped Box Paperback – December 22, 2009
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Do you sleep with the light on? Are you in the habit of checking your doors and windows before you go to bed? Maybe even checking under your bed? If you are about to crack open Joe Hill's chilling thriller Heart-Shaped Box, you might want to rethink your nighttime habits--Hill's story about an aging rock star (with a penchant for macabre artifacts) who buys a haunted suit online will scare you silly. But don't take our word for it. We asked bestselling authors (and masters of dark terror tales themselves) Scott Smith, and Harlan Coben to read Heart-Shaped Box and give us their take. Check out their reviews below, and you might want to pick up a nightlight while you're at it. --Daphne Durham
Guest Reviewer: Scott Smith
In 1993, Scott Smith wowed readers with his stunning debut thriller, A Simple Plan. Thirteen years later, he spooked us again with The Ruins, a horror-thriller about four Americans traveling in Mexico who stumble across a nightmare in the jungle.
The set-up for Joe Hill's novel, Heart-Shaped Box, is appealingly simple. Jude Coyne, an aging rock star, buys himself a dead man's suit. He acquires it online, lured by the promise that the dead man's ghost will be included in his purchase. Jude thinks this is a joke, of course. He also assumes the seller is a stranger. We soon discover that he's wrong on both counts, however, and from this point on the story moves with an exhilarating urgency. Jude wants the ghost gone; the ghost wants Jude dead. We watch, chapter-by-chapter, as they battle for survival. "Watch" is the appropriate word, too, because this is an extremely visual book. Hill's prose is lean and precise, and he renders Jude's world with impressive confidence. It feels solid, every detail both correct and fresh. And this physicality provides a firm platform for the book's otherworldly happenings, which seem all the more frightening for being so securely grounded.
Hill has a flawless sense of pacing. His narrative never flags, nor does it ever move so quickly as to outrun itself. And one can sense his literary ambition pushing at the margins of the genre. There are times when his writing, for all its spare efficiency, seems to jump away from him, stopping one small step short of poetry. An e-mail to Jude from the ghost (trust me, it's not as absurd as it sounds) could even pass for something ee cummings might've written, in an especially morbid mood. And toward the end of the book, when Hill describes a trip down death's "night road" in a '65 Mustang, the passage has a startlingly lyrical beauty.
The story's horror ultimately has as much to do with Jude Coyne's past--his mistakes, abandonments and betrayals--as with anything supernatural. Jude has caused a lot of pain over the years, moving through life with a carelessness that verges on the callous. His battle with the ghost brings this behavior into sharp relief, forcing him to reflect upon his own capacity for cruelty. This dawning self-awareness leavens the book's bleakness and gore (and it is delightfully gory in places) with an unexpected sweetness. Despite our initial impression, Jude is gradually revealed--both to himself and the reader--as an essentially decent, even kind man. It's this kindness, this fledgling ability to love and be loved, that will ultimately be of crucial consequence in his death struggle with the ghost. And it's what makes Hill's debut not only well-written and terrifying, but also--as it draws to its close--surprisingly moving. So go ahead, take a chance, and open his Heart-Shaped Box. I think youll be happy you did. --Scott Smith
Guest Reviewer: Harlan Coben
Harlan Coben is the author of the beloved Myron Bolitar series about a wisecracking sports agent, as well as stunning stand-alone novels like The Innocent and his breakout thriller Tell No One. His new novel The Woods releases on April 17, 2007.
You, dear reader, are obviously somewhat versed in making online purchases, so today, immediately after you click on the yellow "Add to Shopping Cart" on the top right hand corner of this page, why not do an online search and buy something totally unique?
Like, say, a vengeful ghost.
That is what rock-star Judas Coyne does, thinking it will be a laugh, fun for his "sick-o" collection of such things. It seems a random buy, but Judas soon learns that it is anything but. This particular ghost is one Craddock McDermott, step-father to recent suicide victim and boy, is he cranky. He demands revenge for his step-daughters death, which he blames on Judass shabby treatment of her.
Or is he after something else?
There are Amazon readers who will give you a better plot summary. Don't read them too closely because Joe Hill provides plenty of fun surprises. Heart-Shaped Box is a true spine-tingler. I dont use that hyphenated word much anymore. We have seen and read it all, haven't we? But right away, in the first chapter, there was a subtle line that made the hairs on the back of my neck go up in a way I haven't experienced since I first discovered great horror as a teenager.
Hill writes with a sure hand. The prose is compelling. Like most memorable tales of horror, this book is more about redemption than scary moments--though Heart-Shaped Box has plenty of scares. They are visceral, shocking and very well done. The characters are flawed and real. The father-son relationship adds texture and surprising poignancy.
So here's the thing. My guess is, you wont find a ghost to buy online, but if you read the Heart-Shaped Box, you will be getting something that will haunt you and startle you and stay with you and yes, visit you in your dreams.
Sleep well, dear reader. --Harlan Coben
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Stoker-winner Hill features a particularly merciless ghost in his powerful first novel. Middle-aged rock star Judas Coyne collects morbid curios for fun, so doesn't think twice about buying a suit advertised at an online auction site as haunted by its dead owner's ghost. Only after it arrives does Judas discover that the suit belonged to Craddock McDermott, the stepfather of one of Coyne's discarded groupies, and that the old man's ghost is a malignant spirit determined to kill Judas in revenge for his stepdaughter's suicide. Judas isn't quite the cad or Craddock the avenging angel this scenario makes them at first, but their true motivations reveal themselves only gradually in a fast-paced plot that crackles with expertly planted surprises and revelations. Hill (20th Century Ghosts) gives his characters believably complex emotional lives that help to anchor the supernatural in psychological reality and prove that (as one character observes) "horror was rooted in sympathy." His subtle and skillful treatment of horrors that could easily have exploded over the top and out of control helps make this a truly memorable debut. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
When the ghost first appears, Jude is with his latest girl, Marybeth (aka Georgia). She feels an imminent separation is coming, although she is still in love. She becomes an important ally of Jude’s in the fight with the ghost. Other important allies are grandma Bammy, a couple of dogs, and Jude’s comatose father. Father Craddock (the vengeful ghost) is not the only ghost popping in and out of the sensibilities of Jude and Georgia. There is also Anna, Craddock’s daughter who committed suicide. There is a lot of shifting realities between inhabitants of the dead and the living. The shifting is sometimes aided and sometimes inhibited by music.
This is a very fast moving story that demands reader attention. When there are so many strange and weird things happening at the same time, I tend to read faster. That is not something to do with this book. There are many important clues and seemingly off-hand comments that are not hidden in the story, but they seem to occur in the middle of fast action segments. It was easy for me to miss them and I found myself going back to make some connections. And then there is the humor which I found mostly in dialogues. It was quite, and well, understated and dry, or even droll. I frequently stopped just to appreciate some of the humor.
After finishing this book, I read the preview pages for other Joe Hill books. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they were not just clones of Heart Shaped Box. This led me to the author pages and more Joe Hill books. I recommend this for the genre “weird.”
I am always dubious about author's kids getting into the business, I mean, let's be honest, Christopher Rice is a PALE comparison to his talented albeit crazy mother. But Joe Hill, he did a fantastic job with this story. There were times I wondered if he'd be able to maintain the momentum with it and actually keep my attention all the way through. At one point I though it was going to wind up being a short story or novella when it seemed he had reached a denouement in the story, but it was in truth, just the beginning. And I was glad that he had only just begun, because I enjoyed just about every minute. There are times I find myself questioning injuries and people's capacities to continue operating with them but I think he pulled it off. You have to do a bit of suspension of disbelief anytime you read a novel of horror or supernatural happenings.
Does he pull it off as well as dad? Not when held up to The Shining or It, but I feel that he has some great things in store for us.
At the end I did feel like I was reading the equivalent of the Return of the King with what seemed like a large number of fades to black. I kept thinking the end was there, then he'd give me just a bit more about characters lives "after". But knowing how much I wanted to know what was going on with Jack after the Talisman (and not through that horrendous "sequel") I am glad for it.
Mr. Coyne, famous rock star, does exceptionally well for himself. Has enough money to do anything he wants with out worry. Goes thru women to satisfy his needs but never gets attached,. Doesn't even respect them enough to call them by their name, instead he calls them from the state they're from. If they act crazy, they're shipped back home and another state comes along.
The last one he was with is from Florida and he finds out that she killed herself, he's not too surprised with the way she was acting when they were together. Coyne's rep finds a ghost for auction because likes to collect the paranormal. He tops the bid and wins the auction. To find out he received a ghost who happens to be Florida's step-daddy. Coyne talks to Florida's sister (Price) and she laughs at him over the phone telling him he's going to die and everyone with him including his dogs and his current girlfriend, Georgia.
Coyne is freaked out yet keeps seeing this ghost and this ghost is a hypnotist who comes over the radio and gets Georgia to try and kill herself but Coyne stops it. Or he trays to get Coyne to kill her or himself. He realizes what's going on and the power behind it is too hard to fight. Coyne's dogs see the spirit and attack stepdaddy Craddick. So now Coyne knows he must keep the dogs with him for protection.
Coyne decides they need to get to Florida's house and give this ghost back to Florida's sister, Price. On the way the ghost Craddick follows in his old blue pick up truck trying to still kill them. Georgia wants to stop by her grams on the way since they'll be passing in case she dies. She wants to see her one last time. While there, Georgia pulls out oujia board she played with as a child. They call on Florida (real name Anna). It works and Anna tells Georgia she will be the door for her to get through to help them trap Craddick. With that settled, they leave and get to Price's house. She starts going crazy on Coyne telling him how he ruined everything, how he ruined Anna. Suddenly Coyne sees what happened when Anna returned home. All this time she was acting crazy was because she was being sexually molested by her stepdaddy by being hypnotized with her own sister assisting. She was unable to talk about it, but suddenly couldn't stay quiet anymore and when Coyne sent her home she threatened to go to the police. With all the hypnotizing being done it didn't have an affect on Anna anymore. Anna was able to block it out. They blamed all this on Coyne and swore vengeance. Anna's sister drugged her then carried her in the tub and killed her herself making it look like Anna took her own life. Anna had found pictures where Craddick was now molesting Price's young daughter as he did Anna when she was young. There were pictures. As all this was going on, in the house of price in walks Price's daughter with gun. She shoots Coyne's dog dead and shoots off Coyne's fingers. Him and Georgia run out and jump in his car. He realizes he needs to get to his house where his father is.
As he's driving a car crashes into them which is Price, she hits the windshield. Coyne and Georgia are hit badly, the other dog is in the back seat crying, his legs Re broken with bone coming through. They're racist g down the highway and suddenly they're in a bad accident. Georgia's neck is sliced, Coyne sees the crescent razor moon that made the slice. He's hopeless in saving her. Suddenly there's bright light and with her blood Anna and Georgia both together draw a doorway in blood and Craddick is sucked through streaming. Anna and Georgia are both driving both in the same body. Anna is beautiful and he thanks her. He calls out for MaryBeth, no longer by her state name Georgia. She's dying and Georgia tells her to hold on. He loves her.
It ends in the hospital. He swears he lost Marybeth but finds out she's in ICU in critical shape but alive. He runs to her and hold her with his shadow dogs guiding the way. The get married and all is happy. Price is in jail for the pictures found on the molestation of what she did to her own daughter. Her daughter hitches to Coyne's all grown up to say sorry that Anna visited her. She's all good driving a black car and explained what happened. How she never wants to see her mother again.
Phenomenal story!!! Excellent supernatural read!! I couldn't put it down plus the gore was just the right amount. Perfect. I wasn't squeamish at all. Superb job Mr. Hill! I will definitely be reading more of your books with pleasure!!!!