Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Book Review: Heart-Shaped Box

I picked this one up for two reasons: 1.Neil Gaiman recommended it on his site awhile ago and I am nothing if not Neil Gaiman's bitch. 2. Stephen King's son, Joe Hill wrote it. I am always interested in Stephen King's kids because he would always talk about them in the intros of his books. I picked up the book version for myself and the book-on-cd version for my mom. (I get books on tape/cd for my mother because she has a super-long commute.) Since I had a long drive coming up (I was visiting Sid and Andie, who live about six hours away), I alternated between the book and cd.

Jude Coyne is an aging rock star who has given up on music and mostly just moles around his house with a parade of decades-younger goth girlfriends and his menagerie of creepy collectibles like nooses and skulls. When his assistant finds an internet auction to buy an actual ghost, he jumps at the chance. As you can imagine, this turns out to be a rather poor decision. The ghost is sent to Jude in the titular heart-shaped box in the form of the dead guy's favorite suit. Jude starts seeing an old man with black scribbles over his eyes and immediately senses that this ghost is NOT the friendly one that was advertised. The guy starts popping up everywhere, waving a razor on a chain and it's clear that he means Jude some kind of harm. You might say that things deteriorate from there...

HOLY SHIT, this book is SCARY. I was driving back from Sid and Andie's yesterday, so I popped in the cd and had to turn it off after a few chapters because I kept checking my backseat for a creepy old man in a black suit. Also, driving with one hand covering your mouth in horror is probably not a great idea. The audio version is read by Stephen Lang, an actor who I know I've seen in a million things, but the only movie I'm coming up with is Last Exit to Brooklyn, which...yeesh. He does a great job and his voice for Craddock, the dead guy is SO creepy.

I think this is Joe Hill's first full-length novel and that's hard to believe. It's remarkably assured and the storytelling is strong. It's SO well-paced and there were sequences that were so scary, they made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Particularly when Jude wakes up and his girlfriend isn't in bed with him and he goes looking for her. What he finds...well, that's what made me turn the cd off because it was too scary for driving alone, late at night down the PA Turnpike. The characters are well-drawn as well, especially Jude. When I first started the book, I really disliked him as he as an affected coldness and is admittedly, a total dick. I didn't know if I wanted to spend 300+ pages in this guy's head. But, he grows on you, as does his goth girlfriend, Georgia. (Which isn't her name, Jude just doesn't bother to call his paramours by their names, just the state where they're from. Nice.) Hill does interesting things with standard ghost story tropes and has a gift for description.

In case you couldn't tell, I really liked Heart-Shaped Box. I'd totally recommend it, just not during late-night drives. REALLY NOT.

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