Monday, April 11, 2011

The Horror!

Book Reviewed:  Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill

Pity the book that is read immediately after finishing a book you love.  I enjoyed Walker Percy's The Moviegoer so much that it colored my perception of the world for a little while.  The lush descriptions, the turns of phrase, the utterly original protagonist; the novel was a feast.  Unfortunately, there must come a time when another book is read, and usually, that book doesn't fair as well in your perception.  It's a bit like an overly sweet desert eaten too soon after the meal.

I decided to do a 180-turn from The Moviegoer and picked up the debut "horror" novel by Joe Hill.  You might remember that Hill is responsible for my #10 favorite book of 2010, 20th Century Ghosts.  More importantly, he wrote "Pop Art," a favorite short story of mine and one of the most moving things I've ever read.  I'd heard good things about Hill's two novels, so I decided it was a good time to try one out.

I liked Heart-Shaped Box well enough.  It begins with aging rock star Judas Coyne buying a suit online, a suit that is supposed to be haunted.  It ends up being more complicated than just a simple ghost, though, as the suit is haunted by the stepfather of one of Coyne's many ex-girlfriends, a fragile young woman who eventually killed herself.  Coyne and his latest girlfriend, Marybeth (aka "Georgia") end up being tortured by the spirit until it affects every aspect of their lives.  They end up on the road, trying to outrun the inevitable, deadly outcome headed their way.  In the meantime, secrets are unearthed and feelings are realized.

This book is more than just a horror story, though.  It's a tale of redemption.  Judas Coyne is a man who's haunted by more than just physical ghosts.  His rocky past includes a terrible childhood, several dead bandmates, and a long string of unhappy ex-girlfriends.  Marybeth begins the story as just the latest lay in Coyne's life, but she eventually becomes something more, as the danger they find themselves in brings them closer together.  Coyne is saved as a person by his ordeal.

Hill's a good writer, and his style is very similar to that of his famous father, Stephen King.  He does a good job making the story satisfying on multiple fronts.  Also, like King (and I don't mean to keep comparing him to his father), he is just as good at small details and moments as he is at plot points.  Unfortunately, this book just didn't do it for me the way his story collection did.  It was fun to read, a good way to pass the time.  But it wasn't particularly nourishing.  I'm not sure if it was Walker Percy's fault for being so awesome just days earlier, or if I was too harsh in comparing this book with Hill's fantastic short stories.  Overall, a somewhat forgettable bit of literary entertainment. 

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