Thursday, February 5, 2009

Cannonball Read #7: Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

I am an unabashed thriller/horror novel geek. I am not ashamed to admit that Stephen King is my favorite author and that my favorite book in the world is IT. I like a good scary story with some creepiness and some tension and a little gore in it. When I heard that King's son Joe was also a writer, and had been winning some very serious awards for his writing, I figured I might as well check him out.

Heart-Shaped Box is the story of Judas Coyne, a washed-up heavy metal star, who has an obsession for the occult and macabre. One day, an offer comes in online of a ghost for sale. Jude can't resist, and a short while later he receives his purchase...and it isn't at all what he expected. Turns out the ghost has his own agenda, and Jude is not going to like it much. Jude, and his girlfriend Georgia (so called because that's where she's from, and that's how Jude labels his girlfriends) have to work together to figure out what the ghost wants and how to stop him before it's too late.

I found the characters very well-drawn (although I kept forgetting Jude was supposed to be in his mid-fifties and kept picturing him as looking like Rob Zombie) and engaging. Despite being someone who may not sound that sympathetic a character at first blush, I really liked Jude--he's a man who has made a lot of mistakes, but isn't afraid to own up to them. He knows who he is and isn't ashamed of it. Georgia is also great--she starts out as sort of a stereotypical groupie, but as the story goes on she shows her strength and determination. They are both characters that you want to root for.

The plot moves along quickly and doesn't drag, but it also doesn't fly along so quickly that there's no time for atmosphere or metaphors or literary gymnastics. The suspense is good, and your expectations are definitely turned upside down several times by the twists the story takes. It's a little gory and rather scary (though not "lying-in-bed-terrified-by-every-noise-and-dreading-the-nightmares scary) and has its funny moments, too. I will admit that I tore through this book faster than anything I've read for the Cannonball read thus far (unlike Manhunt and Gangs of New York [which I haven't even blogged about because it's such a drag] which were a constant battle to stay awake through.) Hill's work (as much as I'm sure this is something he's been desperately trying to avoid) reminds me a lot of his father's early work, back when Stephen King was really good and had editors who would tell him no once in a while.

It's a tight story and a fun read. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys spooky reads.


Mike said...

I had heard some negative things about this one, but it was interesting to read your perspective. I might give it a try. I really loved Hill's collection of short stories, 20th Century Ghosts.

The Caustic Critic said...

What you have to know about me is I'm really not the best literary critic because I'm not terribly...critical. My level of "suspension of disbelief" is very high, so things that might bother someone else I will just accept as part of the story-world. Still, I thought this book--though not likely to make any "Best of the Century" lists--was fun and entertaining.