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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 alternate Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This first novel by Hill, the second son of Stephen King, provides the perfect raw material for Lang to create an auditory world so convincing that the listener will feel as if they have seen a film by the time they are through. The complex plot can be simply stated: as a lark, retired heavy metal star Judas Coyne buys a haunted suit online. The ghost turns out to be the very angry stepfather of an ex-groupie/lover of Coyne's who killed herself after he sent her away. The relentless ghost is there to kill Judas and anyone who tries to help him. Lang's superb narration is nearly hypnotic in its calm delivery, perfect as backdrop for the action and horror that surrounds it. His Coyne is reminiscent of John Goodman, deep and understated, with a foundation of confidence with a barely perceptible trace of a Southern accent. Each disk starts with a bit of Nine Inch Nails–ish heavy haunting electronica, an ideal tone setter for the journey.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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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.