Heart Shaped Box

Like Father, Like Son…not! In my quest to read more horror books apart from Stephen King, I landed upon this book by Joe Hill, King’s own son. Joe Hill has a hard act to follow, I mean, to live up to King’s standard of horror is asking for a lot. So there would be a lot of pressure on his sons to come up to that level. I am pretty sure they may have had some input and guidance from their famed father, but ultimately, it’s down to Joe Hill to create his own unique brand of horror.

The front cover of the book shows a praise by Harlan Coben who says that this book will “haunt you and startle and stay with you, and will visit you in your dreams!” Then Neil Gaiman says this is a “genuinely scary novel.” When I read these kind of praises, I become a little skeptical. But I still go in with an open mind.

Heart Shaped Box is a book that I really wanted to like because I thought the premise is rather cool. It’s not something I’ve read of before so I was really excited getting into the book. However, about 100 pages in, I was getting tired of reading this book and so I merely just skimmed over most parts. What let me down? The characters and their stupid actions. I mean, by now, we all know how to act logically when we are put in precarious situation. We have seen enough horror movies and read enough horror books. We expect our characters to be intelligent enough to know how to figure things out.

The premise of the book however, is rather cool. Our main hero, Judas Coyne collects macabre stuff: the cannibal’s cookbook, the witch’s confession, the authentic snuff movie and so on. (this reminded me of the collection that the Warrens have in their house, popularised by the Conjuring movies). One day, there happens to be a ghost for sale online and one things leads to another, Judas actually purchases this ghost, which comes in the form of a suit, inside a heart shaped box. (We are to believe that the ghost is actually in suit).

Judas was also a part of a rock band, and some of his band members have been dead. Judas feels haunted by their spirits so he feels he is comfortable around ghosts and hauntings: from his dead band mates, from his abusive father and from the memory of a suicidal girl he abandoned. However, the ghost that he has just purchased online has it’s own malicious agenda.

Things go awry in the house, and this time round, the haunting feels more malevolent and dangerous. His girlfriend Georgia also becomes aware of the presence of a ghost inside the suit (in some bizarre ways, she is least fazed when the suit moves itself around the house as if it were a normal occurrence!).

So it turns out that the ghost is the dead stepfather of the female group member of the band, Florida, that Judas dated once. The stepfather blames Judas for her death and so haunts him down. This causes Jude and his girlfriend to flee their house, but the ghost is in hot pursuit.

What happens to them? Who gets killed? Is Judas able to free himself from the curse? Is Florida’s death avenged? These and many other questions are resolved in the climax of the novel. Do I like the ending? Not really, as it felt like a rehash of countless horror movies I’ve seen so I felt like I was on familiar ground.

Heart Shaped Box is Joe Hill’s first novel, which naturally created a lot of buzz at the time of release. His novel also won the Bram Stoker’s Best New Novel award in 2007. I will not take away the credit Joe Hill deserve for writing his first novel.

Like I said earlier, the premise of the novel I absolutely loved and up to the first 100 pages I read with much interest. However, the second half let me down with it’s cliched moments and characters acting like they have no intelligence.

I have earlier read The Fireman by Joe Hill, which was an average experience for me. I do wonder how hard it is to live under such a famous father like Stephen King, and then to come up with novels that has its own unique voice that doesn’t echo Stephen King. Hard task indeed, but I am hopeful that Joe Hill will one day find his own voice and come into his own element and out of his father’s shadow.

Rating: 3 out of 5.
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