Eric Recommends: ‘Heart-Shaped Box’

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I haven’t read a lot of scary novels. Not intentionally; it just hasn’t turned out that way. So maybe it doesn’t mean much when I tell you that Joe Hill’s “Heart-Shaped Box” is the scariest book I’ve ever read.

It is the story of an aging heavy metal superstar named Judas Coyne who, owing to his carefully crafted public image, has developed a habit for acquiring morbid things. This includes a procession of pale Goth girlfriends, groupies who become lovers and think they’re the one who will tame the beastly Judas.

Then Judas buys a ghost online. A woman says she’s selling the suit that belonged to her stepfather, and that the man’s ghost is now “attached” to it so that whoever buys the suit will get the ghost, too. Stupid, of course, but hey, it’s only a thousand bucks, and Judas is rich, and the public eats it up when he does morbid things like buy ghosts. So why not?

Well, I’ll tell you why not. BECAUSE THE GHOST IS EVIL AND MEAN AND HE WANTS TO MAKE JUDAS KILL HIS CURRENT GOTH GIRLFRIEND AND HIMSELF!!

I’m not embarrassed to tell you that this book made me poop my pants a lot. The first half, in particular, is fiendishly creepy and spooky, the kind of chilly ghost story you read only during the daytime and in public. The second half gets bloody and is more horrifying than terrifying (if you catch the difference), but no less thrilling.

It is the first novel from Joe Hill, who had previously written a collection of short stories. I just discovered that Joe Hill’s real name is Joe King, as in son of Stephen King. It’s good that he keeps that fact hidden. It would create unfair expectations of him. Also, it might make some people think that the glowing reviews heaped on “Heart-Shaped Box” are occurring automatically because of his pedigree. No sir! Joe Hill stands on his own. I’m terrified of him.

(Time magazine has a review of the book here, and Entertainment Weekly has one here.)

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