24 January 2007

Locus Reviews Joe Hill

by Faren Miller

from Locus Magazine, January 2007

Heart-Shaped Box, Joe Hill (Morrow 0-06-114793-1, $24.95, 376pp, hc) February 2007.

Note: this review, from Faren Miller's January 2007 column, follows discussions of new books by Geraldine McCaughrean, James Van Pelt, and L. Timmel Duchamp.


All three of the books discussed so far contain ghosts of one sort or another, in the lingering effect of the dead on the living, lost youth on age. Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box makes the ghost explicit in a uniquely modern way: as a commodity bought via the Internet ("not eBay but one of the wannabes") and delivered by UPS. The haunted object seems to be an old-fashioned pin-striped suit, possessed by the seller's stepfather, but the ghost's true habitat may be a box unexpectedly included with the package. As for the buyer, he's an aging rock star and collector of ghoulish souvenirs: a hangman's noose, a witch's confession, a skull, a snuff film....

Jude has defied the odds (or gods?) by not "sticking to the script," as a big-name rock star who survives while his bandmates died tragically young. Maybe that contributed to his morbid hobby, but middle age itself can haunt like a malignant ghost, with memories of departed times and friends, reminders of one's own mortality. Taking on yet another ghost — one with a mind very much its own and not an ounce of benevolence — might be more than he can handle, and when it turns out to be the spirit of a dead hypnotist, the odds appear to be stacked very much against him. Has his luck run out at last?

Not everything will go the ghost's way. As Jude and his friend Georgia embark on a Road Trip (classic Americana), there's reason to believe they can outwit him... until the nightmare escalates to a crescendo of violence that seems eminently filmable, with plenty of room for gruesome special effects.

Heart-Shaped Box could be great movie fodder, but is this first novel also a good book? Though it becomes more lurid than my usual reading tastes, it eventually won me over again with a return to a less extreme view of both human and inhuman nature. When character development can survive a splashy gorefest, that's the sign of a work with staying power.

Read more!

This is one of over forty reviews from the January 2007 issue of Locus Magazine. To read more, go here to subscribe or buy the issue.
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