The first half of this book is absolutely terrifying and the second half is about as equally disturbing. I guess you could say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree after all - and I mean that in the best possible way in this case.
With Heart-Shaped Box
, Joe Hill pretty firmly establishes a name for himself in the writing business in a fashion reminiscent of his father's early forays into horror and the supernatural. This is a pretty standard ghost story, nothing particularly innovative in the set-up. Rockstar Judas Coyne's curiosity with all things gothic and macabre takes the predictable turn for the worst when he purchases the ghost of a dead man on an online auction site. Days later, the man's suit arrives in a black heart-shaped box and the pants-pissing screamfest begins. Coyne and his girlfriend Georgia's struggle with an evil spirit with very personal reasons for wanting Jude dead will lead them on a multi-state and multi-decade tour through their worst memories and force them to face down demons of their own, which gives the novel depth and extra dimensions beyond the superficial thrills sought after by most horror writers.
I have to admit the initial sequences with the ghost, while firmly established tropes of the genre, had a power and presence to them that I don't think I've ever experienced in print format before. It reminded me of the very worst bone-chilling and hair raising desire to bury my head under the blanket that marked my first experience watching The Exorcist as a child (the memory is about as vivid as any memory I have to this day). Without rhetorical flourish, Hill paints some damn scary imagery in the first half of this book. The scenes would be familiar to any aficionado of the scary movie genre, but there's something....just beyond my ability to pinpoint, that makes Joe Hill's version worse. In addition to tapping into your worst nightmares and midnight thoughts, Hill also spins a pretty damn tense yarn as well. There are pages that fly by where you can feel the muscles in your own legs tensing to spring as characters attempt to "sneak by" malevolent ghosts in wicker rocking chairs by a hairs' breadth that are truly masterful. The second half of the story is mostly driven by the unfolding mystery behind the ghost harassing Coyne and the complicated web of relationships and events that brought everyone into the present circumstances. All-in-all, well crafted structure that flows purposefully and excitingly to resolution.
Solid fundamentals, decent flawed and rounded characters who are offered the chance for redemption so we learn to like them as the story unfolds, and attention to all the right details makes Box
a great read. I'm sure Mr. Hill would prefer his work to stand on its own merits, and it does, but reading as much King as I have, I can't help but make comparisons. Rest assured Mr. Hill, the comparisons are all flattering and there's no shame in internalizing the basics of story-telling from one of the world's best and then making them your own. I for one, find it comforting to know that Mr. King's story-telling will be alive and well for a long time in you.