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Heart-Shaped Box: A Novelby Joe Hill
Synopses & Reviews
Judas Coyne is a collector of the macabre: a cookbook for cannibals...a used hangman's noose...a snuff film. An aging death-metal rock god, his taste for the unnatural is as widely known to his legions of fans as the notorious excesses of his youth. But nothing he possesses is as unlikely or as dreadful as his latest discovery, an item for sale on the Internet, a thing so terribly strange, Jude can't help but reach for his wallet.
I will "sell" my stepfather's ghost to the highest bidder...
For a thousand dollars, Jude will become the proud owner of a dead man's suit, said to be haunted by a restless spirit. He isn't afraid. He has spent a lifetime coping with ghosts — of an abusive father, of the lovers he callously abandoned, of the bandmates he betrayed. What's one more?
But what UPS delivers to his door in a black heart-shaped box is no imaginary or metaphorical ghost, no benign conversation piece. It's the real thing.
And suddenly the suit's previous owner is everywhere: behind the bedroom door...seated in Jude's restored vintage Mustang...standing outside his window...staring out from his widescreen TV. Waiting — with a gleaming razor blade on a chain dangling from one bony hand...
A multiple-award winner for his short fiction, author Joe Hill immediately vaults into the top echelon of dark fantasists with a blood-chilling roller-coaster ride of a novel, a masterwork brimming with relentless thrills and acid terror.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"In the opening scene of Joe Hill's first novel, Jude Coyne, an aging rock star with a penchant for macabre collectibles, buys a ghost through an Internet auction house. The transaction is made tangible by shipment of the dead man's Sunday suit. Contrary to Jude's initial skepticism, the suit arrives (in the heart-shaped box of the title) and the ghost with it: an aged man in a fedora, 'black lines... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) squirmed and tangled' where his eyes should be, and a razor dangling on a chain from his ring finger. More than Jude bargained for? No, maybe exactly what he deserves. It turns out that the singer also has a penchant for Goth chick groupies — 'their limber, athletic, tattooed bodies and eagerness for kink' — and this spirit is Craddock McDermott, the stepfather of a suicidal ex-girlfriend, a stepfather apparently now bent on revenge. Though he's not advertising the fact, Hill is the son of Stephen King, but he's able to concoct a rousing story in his own right despite those big shoes (or maybe because he's learned something at the master's feet?). Early scenes tap into common nocturnal fears: Is there someone in the house? The realistic and the fantastic mix to eerie ends: Radio deejay patter and TV shows morph regularly into Craddock's voice, urging evil thoughts that the characters struggle to resist. For all the ghostly goings-on, however, Hill is ultimately after another level of horror. The major players are either victims or victimizers in a cycle of childhood abuse — a common element of Goth chickdom, as Jude comments in reflecting on that jilted girlfriend and his current flame, Georgia. But Jude carries scars, too, from an abusive father who once slammed his teenage son's hand in a door and whose impending death shadows the story as much as Craddock's dark spirit. Our heroes aren't just facing unwelcome fates but contending with difficult pasts as well. Hill can write an effectively scary scene (he's already won awards for his short fiction), but he falters in balancing the aspects of the novel's longer form: overall pacing, structural cohesion, even consistency of plot and theme. As Jude and Georgia battle the ghost, we find ourselves struggling with questions as well: Who can see Craddock? When? Is the key to defeating him in this world or the next? Singing seems a winning strategy — thematically apt, too — and maybe Georgia's grandmother holds some clue, but ultimately little is made of either strand. Late in the novel, Jude feels brief pity for his sickly father, and Hill slips in some quick commentary on the genre: 'Horror was rooted in sympathy, after all, in understanding what it would be like to suffer the worst.' But the book's greatest flaw lies in the myriad times Hill misses opportunities to put that wisdom to work. In the climactic scene, Hill amps up the action instead of diving into what should be complex layers of emotion. Mixing sympathy and suffering would have plunged into the depths of true horror. Art Taylor is an assistant professor of English at George Mason University." Reviewed by Marc LeepsonJames M. LindsayRon CharlesColin McGinnMichael DirdaJonathan YardleyArt Taylor, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Mr. Hill uses [the bare bones of his plot] to shockingly good effect, creating a wild, mesmerizing, perversely witty tale of horror. In a book much too smart to sound like the work of a neophyte, he builds character invitingly and plants an otherworldly surprise around every corner." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"Heart-Shaped Box is, quite simply, the best debut horror novel since Clive Barker's Damnation Game, twenty years ago. It's the kind of book that the overworked adjectives people use on book jackets — relentless, gripping, powerful, a genuine page-turner — were really meant to describe, for it's all of those things, and enormously smart besides. A genuinely scary novel filled with people you care about; the kind of book that still stays in your mind after you've turned over the final page. I loved it unreservedly." Neil Gaiman
"Much will be made of the kinship of Hill and his superstar father, Stephen King, but Hill can stand on his own two feet. He's got horror down pat, and his debut is hair-raising fun." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] wrenching and effective ghost story." Library Journal (Starred Review)
"Heart-Shaped Box is not as good as the best of [Stephen] King, but it still makes for an entertaining and occasionally frightening read....The urgency of the story and the pace at which Hill tells it are turbocharged to the point where readers will likely be racing through the pages to see what happens next." Chicago Sun-Times
"Joe Hill...draws readers in from the first line and successfully creates a suspenseful and foreboding page-turner that keeps them up long after bedtime....[A] gripping, if grim, read." BookPage
"Hill has written a relentlessly scary ghost story." Bookseller (UK)
"Joe Hill creates a novel that is sure to stand up proudly against any of the classic ghost stories that reside on your bookshelf." Horror World Book Reviews
"[A]n unsettling ghost story that takes what could be a laughable premise and adds so many twists and shocks that readers will be white-knuckling their armchairs by novel's end....Heart-Shaped Box is the perfect Valentine for the lover of good horror fiction." Denver Post
"Leaner and meaner than any of his dad's recent works, Heart-Shaped Box is a frightening, addictive road novel....The chapters are short and hard-hitting — think James Patterson, but meatier." Rocky Mountain News
"Heart-Shaped Box truly deserves the superlatives heaped upon it by the publicists who smoothed the path of this first novel's advent." Seattle Times
"[A] vivid, convincing tale that puts the tropes of old-fashioned ghost stories to work in the world of an almost-washed-up rock star....The pictures [Hill] painted colored my dreams and darkened my mood even after I'd put the book down." Cleveland Plain Dealer
About the Author
The author of the acclaimed story collection 20th Century Ghosts, Joe Hill is a recipient of the Ray Bradbury Fellowship and the A. E. Coppard Long Fiction Prize. His stories have appeared in numerous small publications and anthologies. He lives in New England.
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