Friday, September 24, 2010

Joe Hill Says Never Buy A Ghost On The Internet

Heart-Shaped Box"Broken heart and broken bones
Think of how a castrated horse feels
One more quirky cliched phrase
You're the one I wanna refill." —

When most people hear the words, their immediate thought turns to a song by Kurt Cobain. I Hate Myself and Want to Die is on the B-side of In Utero. But it has another meaning for fans of Heart-Shaped Box, written by author Joe Hill.

The song becomes a plot for the flawed protagonist Judas (Jude) Coyne, an aging and retired lead singer and guitarist in the death-metal band that adopted the occult as part of its presence. The song fits perfectly within the context of a book that carries the name of another song by Cobain.

After years of portraying the image, Coyne received his share of odd and creepy gifts from fans. And eventually, it rubbed off. He began adding to the collection on his own. He didn't do it as part of some twisted fascination so much. Mostly, it seems he wanted to prove that he didn't believe in his own persona or material.

Heart-Shaped Box Is Haunting Of A Different Kind.

In what seems to be a coincidence, Jude's assistant catches an Internet auction for a suit proclaimed to be haunted. Initially dismissive about the find, Jude inexplicably tells his assistant to "Buy It Now" for $1,000. What Jude doesn't know is he's also buying a carefully conceived plot to exact revenge on him from beyond the grave.

alternative coverThe suit and the ghost that comes with it, Craddock McDermott, is the father of his previous girlfriend, Anna. Anna, whom Jude nicknamed after her home state of Florida, was manic depressive, attributed to the severe mental, physical and sexual abuse of Craddock, who employed his skills as a razor wielding hypnotist to save lives while ensnaring and abusing the lives of Anna, her sister (who becomes his confederate), and granddaughter.

After Jude rescues Anna from running down the middle of the highway after a breakdown, he finally breaks off the one relationship he wanted to keep. Afterward, he entertained a string of 20-something Goth girls while Anna was sent home into the hands of her abusers. She kills herself.

Joe Hill does a superb job outlining the forced disconnect between Jude and anyone who might care for him, the by-product of his own strained relationship with an abusive father. We see it clearly with how he treats his assistant and current girlfriend, Marybeth (nicknamed Georgia). The only visible and unconditional love he allows himself to feel is for his two German shepherds named Bon and Angus.

When the haunted suit first arrives, Jude has an immediate aversion to it. But like all good stories, Georgia does not. She treats it much like Jude initially anticipated he would treat it, like a joke. The amusement ends with her being pricked by a pin that doesn't exist. The wound becomes infected.

Joe Hill Easily Proves His Own Mettle.

Joe HillFor those who don't know, Joe Hill is the pen name for Joseph Hillstrom King, son of legendary horror writer Stephen King and the equally talented Tabitha King. Much like King did under the pen name Richard Bachman (in addition to allowing him to publish more than one book a year), Hill used the abbreviated name to allow his work to stand on its own merit.

Heart-Shaped Box does this so exceptionally well. The book is slated to appear as a movie in 2011. The rights were purchased by Warner Bros. and are in the very capable hands of Akiva Goldsman. It's hard to say whether the movie will make its original date. Goldsman has almost 20 outstanding projects. As a joke, Hill already cast the part using Rock Band. Frankly, it looks perfect.

Along with this book, Hill is also the author of Lock & Key, a comic book series by IDW Publishing (review worthy). His second novel, Horns, didn't see the same reception as Heart-Shaped Box.

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill Cuts An 8.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

As a morality tale with a ghost story twist, it's difficult to do much better. The end tends to get a little wonky (like many masterful horror tales) as the anticipation caused by facing the unknown wears away. But the long sections are brilliant, particularly because the story remains less grounded in horror and more footed in the supernatural and evil of men.

You can pick up Heart-Shaped Box: A Novel on Amazon. Or, if you are pressed for time, Heart-Shaped Box is available as an audiobook from iTunes.

Stephen Lang narrates with a measured Southern infusion that changes the pace of the book, but quickly grows on you as the story unfolds. I'll give Lang some credit. He breathed authenticity into the read.
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