Thursday, May 29, 2008

Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box

I don't know what I expected from this novel. I had rather low expectations, to tell the truth. The idea of a man buying a ghost off the Internet seemed silly to me—a story begging for write-out-of-a-corner plot twists and cheap cliches.

Instead, Hill pulls off a genuinely scary story about Jude Coyne, an aging rock star who possesses a weird collection of articles of the dead. In addition to his drawing of the Seven Dwarfs from John Gacy, he owns the skull of a trepanned peasant and a three-hundred-year-old confession signed by a witch. He even owns a snuff film. So when an offer to buy a suit with a ghost connected to it comes along, he takes it.

It turns out to be a mistake, for the ghost is the stepfather of his girlfriend-before-last, the second latest groupie girlfriend in a series whom he names after the states they are from. Florida suffered from depression, and after enduring months of watching her walk around in a fog, he kicks her out and sends her back home to her family, a move that touches off a series of events Jude comes to regret.

The real beauty of this novel is that it's satisfying on a literary and emotional level as well, because we see both Jude and Georgia's (his latest girlfriend) develop from stock metalhead Goths to people who, underneath their veneer of apathy, care for one another deeply.

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