Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cannonball Read #1: Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill

It's a testament to Joe Hill's talent that within a chapter or two I stopped comparing his debut novel to some of my favorites written by his father, Stephen King. There are definite similarities to their writing...slow pacing that eventually leads to a thunderous climax (as all good things should), a proclivity towards tossing out (sometimes gratuitous) pop culture references, thoughtful descriptions of even the slightest of characters. But all of this gets lost once you're deeply invested in the story; one which, once I read the slight blurb on the jacket, I was immediately wary.

Judas Coyne is an aging musician, a guitar god ghoulishly similar to Ozzy Osbourne without all the batshit-crazy bat-snacking battiness. He has an obsession with collecting the grotesque, a long list that includes such items as a snuff film, a hangman's noose, and probably my fifth grade picture. Early on his assistant receives an email that offers a one-of-a-kind, catch-it-or-you'll-regret it, oh-you're-really-going-to-regret-it, dance-puppet-DANCE! type of deal. For only $1,000 Jude can buy a ghost, a ghost who is forever linked to the suit he died in. That's right. The fundamental plot of this story is some rock star buys a ghost off the fucking internet.

Except that's only the beginning. From the moment the suit arrives in the mail Hill creates not only an atmosphere of dread but an unwavering sense of urgency. The ghost is tied to someone from Jude's past, and he is looking for the worst kind of revenge. He's not only going to murder his ass, he's going to separate him from everyone who cares about him, most notably his current girlfriend Marybeth. Death is scary, but isolation is unfathomable. What's so fascinating about this book is that the ghost becomes not just the central villain, but the catalyst for changing Jude's entire outlook on his career, his relationships, on the way he handles his guilt. There's an emotional current throughout the novel that sets it apart from your typical ghost story. Empathy is hard to find when you view the protagonists with loathing, or worse yet indifference. Marybeth could have been another derivative version of a young groupie tied to a successful musician...she's a former stripper, she's goth, she's immature. And yet Hill manages to paint her with so much depth and consideration that I found myself completely infatuated.

I won't go into any more of the plot, except to say that this book in no way turned out to be the chain rattling ghost story I expected. The author dedicated his book to his father, whom he declares to be "one of the good ones." I think that Hill is on his way to be one as well.

I can't believe I've only read one god-damned book so far.


Lainey said...

I really want to read this. It's not at all what I was expecting. I'll be adding it to my Amazon order.

Anonymous said...

This is obviously a very late comment, not actually sure how I ended up here reading your blog in the first place, lol. (ain't websurfing grand?)

I just wanted to say that Stephen King's wife is also a very good writer. Can't remember her name for the life of me, but I read an excellent, if somewhat creepy, romantic novel she wrote in the 80s. There are a couple of scenes I can still picture clearly, and it's in the "if you see this book again, read it again" section of my brain, tho I'm sure it's noticeably a product of the eighties.

crap, now I have to go look it up... Pearl by Tabitha King.

Anyway, my point was to say that he comes by his talent very legitimately. And now I have one more book to look for at the library, lol.