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review 2019-11-15 12:18
"Heart-Shaped Box" by Joe Hill
Heart-Shaped Box - Joe Hill,Stephen Lang

Perhaps the most surprising thing about "Hear-shaped Box" is that, in a novel filled with violence, fear, child abuse, self-harm, and maiming and with the overwhelming presence of a truly evil spirit, the real focus of the story is how a man in his fifties gathers his courage to confront who he has become.

 


It's that focus on character, on the person's history, the choices they've made, the grief they carry, the things they don't challenge about themselves but which make them miserable, that gives this novel its power. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Joe Hill comes up with a truly sinister, evil and believable ghost that is bent on murder and that he doesn't flinch from taking his character to dark and terrible places.

 


In the beginning, the plot seems simple: complacent, rich goth-rock star, Judas Coin, buys a ghost on the internet that turns out to be the real thing and which seems intent on harming him but even at the start it's clear that the plot is not the story. The story is about the self-discovery of Judas Coin.


Judas Coin is a man who doesn't like himself much but who also doesn't feel a need to do anything about that. He's built a comfortable, unchallenging, mostly empty life for himself and is happy to roll with it. Until the ghost arrives and brings his life into focus.


At the start of the book, we're given the take-it-all-for-granted it-is-what-it-is view of Coin's life. Yet, even then, things snagged my attention. Coin has lived with a string of young goth women half his age. He shares that he has trouble remembering their names so he names them after their State of origin. He calls his current bedmate Georgia. He knows the women don't like this because most of them want to forget where they came from but he does it because it's easy and because they let him. Even on a first pass, this made me think Coin was an asshole. As the story progresses and Coin's fate becomes linked to a Florida, a young woman he threw away when he was done, it finally occurs to Coin that he's behaved like a shit, just because he can.

 

The slow shift in Coin's self-perception is skilfully done.


The ghost, which arrives in the form of a dead man's suit is deeply menacing. I loved the way Joe Hill slowly builds the ghost from a joke purchase on an Internet auction site into an apparently unstoppable supernatural threat. At the beginning, while I was fairly sure the ghost was really there, I was willing to go with the idea that Judas Coin voices, that says, perhaps ghosts live only in the heads of the haunted. Either way, it was clear from the start that Coin was set to suffer. My initial reaction to that was, "Well, he deserves it."


Of course, Joe Hill made me revise my opinions. The ghost became horribly real and Judas, who was originally named Justin, became someone I was less willing to write off.


The book is told mostly from inside Justin's head, giving the reader the chance to watch how Justin's perception of himself and what's happening to him changes. Identity is at the heart of this novel. The main challenge is who Justin is going to choose to be.


At the start of the novel, he's definitely Judas Coin. When, as a young man, Justin created his Judas Coin persona, Justin transformed himself from an abused farm boy to a rock star. He set himself free. Except, now that he's a man in his fifties, he's been wearing the Judas Coin persona for so long it has become the self he recognises when he looks in the mirror, the one he thinks he will offend if he does something that rubs against the grain because it's inconsistent with who he is. We are told that Judas/Justin believes that:

 
 

"His own identity was his first and single most forceful creation. The machine that had manufactured all his other successes. Which had produced everything in his life that was worth having and that he cared about He would protect that to the end."


This is Justin's central problem: he wants to protect Judas. Yet Judas was the one who betrayed with a kiss. The one who placed pragmatism and survival ahead of love and hope. The one who ultimately couldn't live with himself. It was as Judas that Justin has been so careless with his own life and the lives of those close to him that he is now surrounded by nothing but wreckage. It's Judas that the ghost wants to kill.


If Justin wants to avoid the ghost's silver razor on the gold chain, wants to erase the dark scribbled across his eyes that the spirits of dead he sees wear, it seemed to me he'd have he to throw Judas under the bus.


The resolution that Joe Hill comes up with is both cleverer and truer than that. The man Justin is by the end of the book hasn't repudiated Judas Coin, he's just not in the driving seat anymore.

 
As I listened to the "Heart-Shaped Box", I found that the scary bits - the ghost with the scribbled over eyes, the compulsion to self-harm, the sight of things that aren't there but which still make you sweat with fear - rolled over me. I could see that they were well done, original, powerful, deeply envisioned, but it was like a polished sex scene about an orientation or fetish I don't share. I could see it, admire it, but I didn't feel it.


Yet when Joe Hill got me into people's heads, when Judas Coin is honest with himself, when Georgia opens up and shows the person she'd like to be and how dragged down she feels by the person she's been so far, THAT I felt. It felt true. It felt real. It made me hungry for more.

 


Stephen Long does a great job reading the "Heart-shaped Box", although I would have enjoyed it more if Harper Audio had resisted the urge to add music. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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text 2019-10-20 11:09
Reading progress update: I've read 55%. Joe Hill fills me with a strange desire.
Heart-Shaped Box - Joe Hill,Stephen Lang

 

 

Listening to Joe Hill's "Heart-Shaped Box", I find that the scary bits - the ghost with the scribbled-over eyes, the compulsion to self-harm, the sight of things that aren't there but which still make you sweat with fear - roll over me. I can see that they're well done -original, powerful, deeply envisioned - but it's like polished sex scene about an orientation or fetish I don't share. I see it, admire it, but I don't feel it.

 

Yet when he gets into people's heads, when Judas Coin is honest with himself, when Georgia opens up and shows the person she'd like to be and the how dragged down she feels by the person she's been so far, THAT I feel. It feels true. It feels real. It makes me hungry for more.

 

So here's the strange desire Joe Hill fills me with: I'd like to read a novel or short story by him that has no horror in it - just people. Any kind of people that he wants to show me, I'll be there listening.

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text 2019-10-17 15:48
Reading progress update: I've read 25%. - what it means to be Judas Coin.
Heart-Shaped Box - Joe Hill,Stephen Lang

 

 

This quote seems to be what the book pivots on. Justin has transformed himself from an abused farm boy to a rock star by creating his Judas Coin persona. It's a persona he has adopted for so long that it has become the self he recognises when he looks in the mirror, the one he thinks he will offend if he does something that rubs against the grain because it's inconsistent with who he is. We are told that Judas/Justin believes that:

 

"His own identify was his first and single most forceful creation. The machine that had manufactured all his other successes. Which had produced everything in his life that was worth having and that he cared about He would protect that to the end."

 

This may be Justin's central problem. He wants to protect Judas. Yet Judas was the one who betrayed with a kiss. The one who placed pragmatism and survival ahead of love and hope. The one who ultimately couldn't live with himself. It was as Judas that Justin has been so careless with his own life and the lives of those close to him that he is now surrounded by nothing but wreckage.

 

It think that if Justin want's to avoid the silver razor on the gold chain, wants to erase the dark scribbled across his eyes, he may have to throw Judas under the bus.

 

 

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text 2019-10-16 23:42
Reading progress update: I've read 18%.
Heart-Shaped Box - Joe Hill,Stephen Lang

 

 

Joe Hill never rushes a story and he's sure in no hurry in "Heart-Shaped Box".

 

What I'm enjoying most about this book is the how character-driven it is.

 

The plot so far is simple: complacent, rich goth rock star buys a ghost on the internet that turns out to be the real thing and which seems intent on harming him. 

 

The plot is not the story. The story is about the self-discovery of Judas Coin.

 

He's a man who doesn't like himself much but who also doesn't feel a need to do anything about that. He's built a comfortable, unchallenging, mostly empty life for himself and is happy to roll with it. Until the ghost arrives and brings his life into focus.

 

At the start of the book, we're given the take-it-all-for-granted it-is-what-it-is view of Coin's life. Yet, even then, things snagged my attention. Coin has lived with a string of young goth women half his age. He shares that he has trouble remembering their names so he names them after their State of origin. He calls his current bedmate Georgia. He knows the women don't like this because most of them want to forget where they came from but he does it because it's easy and because they let him. Even on a first pass, this made me think Coin was an asshole. As the story progresses and Coin's fate becomes linked to a Florida, a young woman he threw away when he was done, it finally occurs to Coin that he's behaved like a shit, just because he can. The slow shift in Coin's self-perception is skilfully done.

 

The ghost is deeply menacing. On the one hand, I'm fairly sure the ghost is there. On the other hand, as Coin himself says, perhaps ghosts live only in the heads of the haunted. Either way, Coin is set to suffer. As far as I can see, he deserves it. 

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text 2019-08-05 18:45
Halloween Bingo Pre-Party: Favorite Ghostly Tales
The Shining - Stephen King
The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson,Laura Miller
A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings - Charles Dickens,Michael Slater
Heart-Shaped Box - Joe Hill
Pet Sematary - Stephen King

Hmm. Favorite ghostly tales. Now this is a tough one. I honestly had to go back to my Goodreads account to look this up since I didn't want to give a wrong answer here and also wanted to make sure that I was only counting favorites.

 

So my top 5 ghostly tales books are the following with excerpts from my original reviews:

 

The Shining by Stephen King. 

"This book is peak King for me honestly. Everything including the ending (which he has trouble sticking at times) works. The ending makes sense based on everything that came before it, and I applaud King for not just throwing out a happy ending when I think that would have made readers (or constant readers) just as happy."

 

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

 

"This book in a word was perfect. Everything worked and Shirley Jackson keeps up your unending sense of dread while you are reading this book. When the band of four start investigating the house and you read how it was built you start to imagine a slightly off house in your head as they go exploring. I seriously wish someone had made a map of the house since it was so confusing trying to understand where rooms were located. Having the little foursome start to turn on each other and then become afraid together and alone was actually more frightening than whatever was going on in Hill House."

 

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. 

"I love reading this Christmas classic every year. I bought this one because it came with illustrations. Not too much to say besides this classic tale of a man visited by three ghosts ends up changing his life and those around him."

 

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe HIll. 

"The plot seems very simplistic at first. Jude buys a ghost. However, finding out about the ghost and how it ties into Jude's past I thought was quite brilliant. There were some side plots with Jude's dying father, and Marybeth's past that I really at first didn't see how that could work with the larger "got ghost, must be rid of it" plot, but everything worked very well. 

The writing I thought was phenomenal. Just a few sentences describing something were enough to put my teeth on edge and to make my skin crawl. Which leads me into discussing the flow of the book. 

The flow of the entire story I thought was good, and Mr. Hill seemed to know enough when to slow the pace down (in order to allow the atmosphere to sink in) and when to speed it up. All of the chapters were like amuse bouche's to me. Tiny chapters that gave big flavor. I think that's why I just kept reading without stopping once I got going since before you knew it you were at the end of one chapter and I would just think, okay, just one more chapter."

 

Pet Sematary by Stephen King. 

 

"Wow. So this is marked as a favorite, I have only read this one twice. It's a lot to sit through. At times you hope there is going to be a break or some sort of happy ending. Instead we get a book about consequences and things perhaps set in motion by something dark that wanted to ruin a happy family. I have to say that I do love most of King's earlier works. They tend to be more raw and real to me. Pet Sematary made me cry when I read it as a teen and it made me cry again this weekend. "

 

 

 

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