Friday, October 3, 2008

Heart-Shaped Box -- Joe Hill

Fifty-four-year-old metal icon Jude Coyne has mostly settled down. He lives in a rambling old farmhouse with his current girlfriend (one in a long line of much-younger-than-him Goth fans) and his two dogs, Angus and Bon.

Jude has a collection. A hangman's noose (used), a 300-year-old witch's confession, a trepanned skull, a snuff film... Most of the items in the collection were sent to him by fans, but when his personal assistant brings this online auction item to his attention, Jude can't resist:

I will "sell" my stepfather's ghost to the highest bidder. Of course a soul cannot really be sold, but I believe he will come to your house and abide with you if you put out the welcome mat. As I said, when he died, he was with us temporarily and had no place to call his own, so I am sure he would go to where he was wanted. Do not think this is a stunt or a practical joke and that I will take your money and send you nothing. The winning bidder will have something solid to show for their investment. I will send you his Sunday suit. I believe if his spirit is attached to anything, it has to be that.
When the suit arrives in a black heart-shaped box, it's almost immediately apparent that the sale wasn't a scam. The ghost has arrived, is there to stay, and is anything but benign.

I like to work more spooky books into my schedule once fall begins, and Heart-Shaped Box was a good way to kick the new season off. The ghost was creepy as all get out, with black scribbles over his eyes and a jerky, spliced-film way of moving. The story itself was constantly surprising. It twisted and turned and kept me a little off-kilter all the way through (which, in my opinion, is a good thing in a spooky book). I'm not all that well-versed in the metal genre, but even I recognized a lot of the references -- I'm sure that someone more knowledgeable would find lots more.

The Big Showdown at the End didn't work for me all that well -- it felt a little cheesy, a little too Beetlejuice in a book that had felt much creepier until then. It's interesting, too, that up until the very end, I enjoyed the characters but didn't feel as if I'd become at all attached to them -- but the epilogue section made me realize how much affection I'd developed and how much I'd been rooting for them. So while it wasn't a perfect read, I enjoyed it quite a lot, and I'll definitely be picking up Joe Hill's book of short stories.

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Seth said...

Heart Shaped box is an enjoyable ride, although nothing especially good. 20th Century Ghosts, though, is just fantastic--one of two amazing debut story collections I read last year (the other being Karen Russell's astounding St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves).

Leila the Great said...

Yeah, I liked it well enough, but it wasn't one that I went bananas about. And is there a movie or another book where ghosts have squiggles over their eyes? That seemed so familiar for some reason... I won't be surprised if HSB gets turned into a movie.

I hadn't realized that St. Lucy was a story collection -- for some reason I thought it was a novel! I've been wanting to read 20th Century Ghosts for ages and ages. I really need to get on that.

A Paperback Writer said...

I haven't read the book, but I must say that squiggles for eyes immediately makes me think of Neil Gaiman's Coraline, where the Other Mother has buttons for eyes....
Perhaps, Leila, that's what was playing in the back of your mind too.

Leila the Great said...

No, it was very specifically the squiggles that seemed familiar -- though the covering up of eyes always freaks me out. (Like in Red Dragon? Yecch.)