Joe Hill, definitely “a chip off the old block”, the old block being mega-author [a:Stephen King|3389|Stephen King|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1362814142p2/3389.jpg] of course. From what I have read Hill tried his best to keep his relationship with Stephen King a secret and forge his own career as an author. Happily he became a successful author before the identity of his Dad was publicly disclosed by Variety magazine. Heart-Shaped Box
is his first novel, as of now I think he has four to his name, excluding comics and anthologies.
Basically Heart-Shaped Box
is a story of a vengeful ghost, but there is a lot more to the story than that. The setup is quite original, the protagonist is a rock star who likes to collect weird macabre things, one day he buys a ghost off an eBay-like online shopping website. The ghost is bought in the form of an item that belongs to the dead man, in this case a suit that comes in a heart-shaped box; much grief ensues. It probably is not much of a spoiler to tell you that the suit is more important than the eponymous heart-shaped box, the box just becomes a creepy motif after it and similarly shaped boxes are mentioned a few times.
The less I elaborate about the plot the better I think, as the story takes many unexpected twists and turns and Hill’s conception of what a ghost can do is quite original and disturbing. I enjoy scary horror novels, but most such novels are like hamburgers, easily consumed with some pleasure but not very memorable. For a horror novel to be memorable it has to transcend just being scary, it has to have characters worth caring about. This is why [a:Stephen King|3389|Stephen King|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1362814142p2/3389.jpg]’s best books are head and shoulders above the majority of horror fiction, he writes characters the reader cares about. I imagine Hill learned this lesson well from his father. His protagonist Jude is a flawed individual with a lot of issues but is a good man underneath all the rock star callousness. His girlfriend and the secondary character is equally damaged in her own way (not to mention very potty mouthed) but when push comes to shove really rises to the occasion. I actually worry about these characters and that is the highest accolade I can give to a work of fiction. Even Jude’s dogs are endowed with personalities and heroic qualities. The author’s fondness for dogs is obvious and it is something I can really identify with. The sense of compassion in the book also makes it much more meaningful than the average horror novel.
Hill’s prose style in this book is straightforward and without frills or literary flourishes, what little humor that can be found within the book are mostly through the dialogue. The narrative moves at a breakneck pace and I gobbled then entire book up in just a few days, much more quickly than I normally read. Personally I am hoping to see more finesse in the prose style in his subsequent books but I have no doubt at all that I will be reading them; all
of them. It is October 26 as I write and I can heartily recommend Heart-Shaped Box
for your Halloween read. If you are reading this in February or whatever, I’d still recommend it for a few hours of excellent and creepy escapism.