I had never heard of Joe Hill, the offspring of Stephen King who wrote this novel under a pen name because he did not want to gain attention to his work for the sole reason that he is Stephen King’s son, until my grandmother, a Stephen King fanatic, told me a little about the book when she was a quarter of the way through it. After she had finished she lent me the book and I wearily took it and began my journey into the life of Judas Coyne, an ex-rocker with a wicked taste for paranormal items and much younger women.
Heart-Shaped Box opens with a run of the mill, usual day of a retired rock star, Judas Coyne, his clerk and annoying friend by business-association and his goth fan-girl girlfriend whom he refers to as Georgia, that being the state in which he picked her up in while on tour with his band. The only thing remotely intriguing about this washed up rocker living in a desolate section of the United States in a farm house is his collection of occult and otherwise eerie knick knacks that fans had sent him over the years.
Judas’ attraction to so-called haunted objects has over the years evolved into an entire room full of random junk that most likely isn’t worth keeping around, but who he had built himself into being over the years on the road with his band is a man in which the goth lifestyle flocked to–And it had obviously stuck with him years after the other members of his band died off and disappeared. When his clerk sees a haunted suit online, Judas doesn’t think twice before telling him to get it. Days later, the suit arrives in a heart-shaped box and the horror, ghost-chasing story unravels.
Heart-Shaped Box is not the great horror story in which people have been claiming; it is however, a horror story that is about the same caliber of a Stephen King novel–And not his early work, which was what had built King to be known as a great horror story teller. This novel, while interesting and captivating at first, begins to drag on by the time you reach the middle of the story. While Hill is describing light, smells, temperature and feelings, you start to think to yourself “Yeah, I get it, now on with it!” This feeling is nothing short of what is felt while reading a recently published King novel.
Hill’s attention to detail is either an attribute beloved by readers or an attribute that can be seen as nothing but a writer wanting to write a novel instead of a novella. While his detailed explanations and back story of the characters is thorough, I found myself more interested in the story of Coyne’s girlfriend, Georgia; or Marybeth as we later begin to refer to her as, while my interest in the main character simply went stale, leaving a bad taste in my mouth.
While I can respect that Hill used a pen name in order to separate himself from his father and publish his novel by himself, this story runs dry way too early in order to be called a great horror story and it can easily be seen that the majority of Hill’s interest in horror stories and writing them came from his father. This novel reads as if Hill simply read Stephen King’s instructional writing book, On Writing, and decided to try on the novelist’s suit for a while.