Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Heart Shaped Box Review

From Wikipedia: The distinction between horror and terror is a standard literary and psychological concept applied especially to Gothic literature and film. Terror is usually described as the feeling of dread and anticipation that precedes the horrifying experience. By contrast, horror is the feeling of revulsion that usually occurs after something frightening is seen, heard, or otherwise experienced. It is the feeling one gets after coming to an awful realization or experiencing a deeply unpleasant occurrence. In other words, horror is more related to being shocked or scared (being horrified), while terror is more related to being anxious or fearful. Horror has also been defined as a combination of terror and revulsion.

I always prefer terror over horror. I don't like my books to make me nauseous. Same with movies. I prefer horror movies of the 1970s like The Omen or Halloween, where there's no gore and the plot is nerve racking over horrifying. I did love American Horror Story this season but last season not as much for some reason, but I still didn't watch the gory scene. My husband loves Saw which I made it through about 45 minutes of before starting to cry. I made him go buy me ice cream and watch Enchanted so I could get over how much I didn't like it.

As a kid I was really into John Bellairs' books. My mom once told me that she figured since I liked creepy books as kids (lots of Agatha Christie too) that I would eventually read Stephen King. But I've never got there. I know enough about the books to realize that gore isn't my thing. That being said, King's son Joe Hill has gotten a lot of praise for his writing. So as I'm still on a quest to find something like Gone Girl, when Heart Shaped Box and Horns went on sale for under $3 on the kindle, I grabbed them.

Heart Shaped Box follows Jude Coyne, an aging rock star with a penchant for collecting dark items like a snuff film. He lives in an old farm house with his two dogs and his girlfriend, MaryBeth, who he calls Georgia. Like all his former girlfriends, she is half his age, goth, and referred to only by the state she is from. Jude's assistant Danny receives an email for an auction item - a dead man's suit, supposedly haunted by a woman's stepfather. This dead man, Craddock, was a hypnotist and a spiritualist. Jude knows none of this yet. He buys the suit on a whim. It arrives in a heart shaped box and not long after the haunting begins. The house grows cold, Danny gets freaked out and leaves, the dogs are constantly barking and Jude begins to see the old man's ghost. The ghost can possess the radio, TV and email - sending long, rambling, televangelist type rants to Jude about riding with him on the "night road". According to Craddock, Jude will end up dead, as will any one who attempts to help him or offer him comfort, which of course Georgia tries to.

Tied into all of this is the apparent suicide of Florida, the last girl Jude dated. Craddock was her stepfather and when he was dying he and his other stepdaughter, Jessica, did something to make Craddock haunt Jude until his death. Their reasoning doesn't get revealed until closer to the end, but let's just say that Florida's character was far stronger than Jude (or the reader) suspected earlier in the book.

Jude and Georgia take a road trip to Florida, stopping along the way in Georgia to see MaryBeth's grandmother and eventually end up in Louisiana, where Jude is still haunted by his dying, abusive father. Jude isn't necessarily a likable character at first. He's kind of a dick actually, but this is partly a story about redemption and learning to both love and be loved. The ghost just wants him dead, but Jude tries to be a better, kinder person over the course of the book. I won't reveal whether it works or not - just read it.

The story itself was quite good, but it's a testament to Joe Hill's writing that I was revolted by certain details - fingers getting blown off by guns, an infected thumb that never heals and just gets worse and worse as the novel goes on, etc. I could have lived without that stuff. But then again, Hill created a memorable story and a memorable character with Jude, who learns to deal with the consequences of his careless life.

I think it takes a specific type of reader to be into Stephen King and I would say that same for Joe Hill. Interestingly, I learned today that there is another son, Owen King who just published a novel called Double Feature, which has more to do with fathers and sons and less about horror. I just might check that one out eventually.

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

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