Heart Shaped Box: Book Review


It has been a long time since a horror book scared me. I found this gem of a book, the debut of Joe Hill, son of one of my all-time favorite authors Stephen King, in a run-down second-hand bookstore in my wife's home-town. "Gem" would pretty much be the perfect adjective for this hard bound copy. I got hooked right away from page one. I actually found another one as well - "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" by Susanna Clarke; a hefty tome of a book which I saved for another rainy day to tackle. Coming back to Joe's debut horror story.

The book is about a retired rock-star, Jude Coyne who has a fetish to collect weird (bizzarre/gothic/pretty much disgusting) stuff and is renowned for this motley collection as well. He cannot resist when some stranger puts their father's ghost up for sale on an auction site. and thus begins his troubles. the ghost is really a ghost (duh! and not just inside his head!!) and it haunts Jude's life and hangs around his house- things go awry when the ghost decides to really up the ante and goes after Jude and his girlfriend with a wicked slasher knife.

Joe's a powerful writer. the spooks really come alive through his imagery that is visceral and imaginative. he doesn't hesitate to stoop down and explore the hidden depths that human psyche can stoop to. that's where the "darkness" element comes for his fantasy. I have not read a book in recent times set in contemporary America with a fantastical element to it. that is what made the book so scary and un-put-downable for me. Heart-racingly pacy and spooky, Joe is a magician with words. Every word that speaks true of the proud bloodline. A fruit that has not falleth far from the tree. ( Interestingly, I never found out this little trivia - it was my wife who started to read his second book, Horns, who found this out. I cannot wait to start on that one, if the debut is anything to go by!)

While the book has really nothing new by itself to offer to the horror genre, Joe draws us in through the strong characterization of his main protagonist, Judas the rock-star. Moody, erratic, genius, sarcastic, sensitive, loving. The man grows on you as you keep going; his multiple girlfriends, rockstar attitude, relationship with estranged father, the muse that comes back to haunt him – all these phases have been painted realistically by Joe and you can’t help feeling a wee bit sorry for the poor chap who’s going through his own purification in Joe Hill’s version of Hell. A nasty place indeed. While all ends are neatly tied up by the end, Joe brings back a glimmer of light in that dark place he has created. And that for me was the winner with this book. It is ultimately about slaying one’s ghosts of the past. Correcting the wrong-doings and sins of his past and coming clean. And how can I forget – the tribute to rock and metal. With a title itself that's a tribute to Nirvana, Joe’s woven in a lot of great tracks that form the backdrop to this story that races from wintry grey of New York all the way to the green country sides of Florida. A beautiful horror story that is also about re-inventing yourself, if I may call it so.

A full four stars. The boy has come of age. A man of his own reckoning, Joe Hill is here stay and has a long road ahead.

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