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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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review 2019-06-24 09:18
Not Hill's best work in my opinion.
Heart-Shaped Box - Joe Hill

Joe Hill’s “Heart-Shaped Box” had a great second half, so I am glad I persevered. I found part one rather awkward as if the writing devices were foregrounded rather than the story. I could see exactly what Hill was trying to do, but emotionally it left me flat. The heart shaped box motif was shoehorned into place in ways that felt unnatural and silly. Part two was much better and smoother. The race against time and the fight for the lives of the protagonist and his girlfriend (she never seems to be much more than that) all fall naturally into place.

 

Judas Coyne is an aging rock star who dates women thirty years younger than him and treats them with callous disregard, yet compared to the villain he appears almost angelic. We have a character arc and personal growth, and by the end Judas is calling his girlfriend and his ex-girlfriend by their names rather than the States in which they were born. Yes, really. Judas has “visited” a lot of US States.

 

I preferred The Fireman, Nosferatu and Horns, but this isn’t a terrible book. I’d give it a solid 3/5 stars.

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review 2019-01-08 17:56
Review: Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
Heart-Shaped Box - Joe Hill

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill is a novel about rock star Judas Coyne and black, heart-shaped box and the dead man's suit it contains.

I absolutely loved this story! I have to say that I am loving Joe Hill's work as much as I do his father's.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-10-20 16:01
Review: Heart-Shaped Box
Heart-Shaped Box - Joe Hill

Joe Hill has proven to me that he is a phenomenal storyteller.  His mind is a twisted as his father's, but he has managed to set himself apart.

 

The story was twisted and did not go the way I thought it would from the beginning.  There were twists and turns so unexpected that it was surprising, without leaving me too dizzy.  Craddock was a creepy, disgusting man who is hopefully frozen up to his neck in the river Cocytus, able to cry out in despair, but never receiving mercy.

 

This was the story of rock star, Judas Coyne and how he was pulled into a sadistic game of suicide/death by the stepfather (Craddock) and sister (Jessica) of one of his former paramours (Anna).  He and his current love, Marybeth get dragged onto the road trip from hell when Jude is tricked into purchasing what he thought was a phony haunted suit.  The suit; however, was indeed haunted by the ghost of Craddock who is intent on destroying Jude by making him murder Marybeth before taking his own life.  Once Jude realizes that the ghost is real and why he's after Jude, the fight to survive begins.

 

It was very well written and kept me hanging on for more.  The only part I disliked greatly was the death of Jude's dogs.  Fictional, I know, but animal death of any kind has become something (recently) that I do not handle well.  Now I'm starting to agree with the people who say that books should come with trigger warnings.  After that the book seemed to drag on, but not because it wasn't good.  I was just wanting it to be over so I could stop thinking about the dogs.  The ending was surprising and not at all what I expected to happen, which was refreshing, because I hate when I can guess how a book will end and am right.  Minus the parts with the dogs, this was a great read.  I will definitely read more from the author.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-09-24 02:22
Jude adventure with ghost haunting
Heart-Shaped Box - Joe Hill

Jude or Judas is old rock star. He has a lot of income to be disposed off in weird way. One is to buy weird items from the net. He bought a suit that comes with a ghost.

 

Now he got a ghost appeared to be an old man. And this old man is out to get him. So he wanted a return or refund. The call to the seller met with hostility as it was a deliberate thing. The ghost was the father of a woman he dumped before. She was dead by suicide according to the seller, who claimed to be her sister. 

 

Other weird thing is going on. The current girlfriend Georgina is trying to help him. He seems to be trying to commit suicide but with no memory or even that intention in his mind. 

 

More seeing of ghost. 

 

At the start of the book is pretty creepy. I dislike creepy as it does not take a lot to scare me. That's why I have so much fun at theme parks. 

 

And it got really good really fast. 

 

He found out more about the ghost and the woman that he dumped. Anne wrote him letters wanting him to take her back. She also revealed some secrets in her past. She was abused and she was going to come out with the truth. 

 

Now the ghost blamed Jude for corrupting his girl. She used to take the abuse as a child without complaint. The creepy factor take a turn and it is Anne's sister Jessica who is creepy. 

 

The father, now dead, was a hypnotist. He used to hypnotize Anne and let her forget that she was abused so that she wouldn't be unhappy. But because Anne was wired differently. the father couldn't fully erase the memory and it comes back. 

 

Now it became a road trip, detective, ghost story. With quite a lot going on. Jude was not what one would expected on a spoiled rock star. This is really good.

 

4.5 stars. 

 

Reading this for Modern Master of Horror. 

 

 

 

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