“Jude didn’t care what was reasonable. He wasn’t a reasonable man. He only cared what was true. He had seen a dead man in the night. Maybe, for a few minutes, in Danny’s sun-splashed office, he’d been able to block it out, pretend it hadn’t happened, but it had.”
Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill
William Morrow, February 2007
376 pages (hardcover)
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.
For a thousand dollars, Jude will become the proud owner of a dead man’s suit, said to be haunted by his 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.…
I disliked Judas Coyne from the start.
“I didn’t like the characters” is often considered a weak argument for not liking a book, a sign the reader isn’t willing to step outside their comfort zone and experience something that doesn’t fit their worldview… but it’s books like this one that make me stand behind that opinion. I didn’t particularly like the characters in Heart-Shaped Box either, but I still greatly enjoyed the book.
So what did I like about it? It’s an interesting concept, for one thing… or at least it is to me, someone who likes horror (in book form anyway) but doesn’t read all that much of it. I like horror for the ideas, not for the scare-factor and gratuitous violence. Heart-Shaped Box has a bit of the latter, but enough of the former to balance it out. I enjoyed going on the journey, disturbing and uncomfortable though it is, along with the main characters.
And I really enjoyed the writing. Joe Hill has a style I appreciate. It’s compulsively readable, but it still has some weight to it. There are some great turns of phrase and quotable lines, but he doesn’t make too much of them and forget about the story along the way. This kind of style is, to me, a perfect balance between literary and commercial (though a true literary fan would probably scoff at that).
I read Horns years ago, and I’ve been meaning to get back to Joe Hill ever since. I can only hope it won’t be another four years before I pick up my next one.
Does Heart-Shaped Box sound like something you’d pick up? Have you read any of Joe Hill’s work?