Monday, February 26, 2007

Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Jude Coyne is an agin' Cajun death metal god with the requisite attachment to the macabre. He collects that which is distasteful and intriguing -- art from a serial killer, snuff films, and goth strippers with Daddy issues.

Then one day, for no particular reason, he bids on (and wins) an online auction for a ghost.

Joe Hill is a fascinating and immensely talented young voice in horror fiction. His debut collection 20th Century Ghosts was nominated for the World Fantasy and Bram Stoker awards for best collection, and perhaps should have won both.

It's interesting to watch the evolution of the traditional ghost story. To compare Heart Shaped Box to Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House and Peter Straub's opus Ghost Story is perhaps a bit unfair, but very interesting. The ghosts in these stories seem to become increasingly more human as the decades pass. The ghost in Hill's work is flawed and sick, and very believable as a villain if one discounts his undead status. Granted, I'll admit I'm not as well read in horror fiction as I ought to be, but the stark changes from M.R James's classic works to present day ghost stories is marked in tone.

In fact, Heart Shaped Box is very believable and compelling -- to a point. And then it becomes absurd. It's unfortunate, but I believe Hill came very close to ruining his novel by pushing the boundaries of believability. Until that point, it was a very good story.

All in all, Heart Shaped Box is a good book, but not worthy of Hill's earlier short work.


Collector's Notes:

Here's where it gets interesting. There was no need to mention it earlier, but with regards to collectibility, I think it's important to mention who Joe Hill actually is.

His full name is Joe Hill King; the son of horror heavyweight Stephen King.

The King collector's are pushing the Hill market, and as such his earlier works (20th Century Ghosts and some chap books) are priced very highly. As such, get your hands on a first edition and set it on your shelf. There hasn't been as sure an investment released thus far this year.

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