Heart-Shaped Box - Joe Hill

This book took me a long time to finish (3 weeks!) even though I was enjoying it. It wasn't very long (400 pages, according to Amazon), but I was not in a reading zone and I think this review might suffer some because of that. I didn't take notes (like I usually dolaptop meltdown and all) and throughout I would put it down after a chapter or two and busy myself doing other things. So basically, I've been unable to focus on a single thing for a few weeks and now I've hit bottom and have zip motivation to do anything. I'm forcing myself to write this (I have a hard time reading my next book if the review on the last hasn't been written), so I apologise ahead of time that this review might come off as super negative and well, it just might suck. Also, spoilers.

It took me a while to warm to the characters and the events. At first I found the main character (Jude) to be a very stereotypical version of a rock star. I think this might have been part of the reason for why I kept losing interest. It wasn't until a few chapters before the end of Part I (around chapter 15) that I knew for certain that I was committed to seeing the story play out to the end. The amount of tension building in those chapters was magical. It has been a long time since an author has been able to bring about that level of dread in my black heart. Hah! If I rated on emotion, I think I'd have given this 5 stars just for that.

Unfortunately, the stereotypical stuff kept coming up and yanking me out of the story. There were just so many name drops and some that didn't even make sense to me. Who says they met someone backstage 'at a Trent Reznor show'? I can recall one show that Trent played as himself (Hurricane Katrina, maybe?), but for the most part I think normally one would say 'at a Nine Inch Nails show'. It came off as sounding false to me. The name drops made me think that too much focus was being placed on how big of a rock star the main character was.

This next part, again, is more of a 'me' problem than a problem with characterisation. My brain must have just been way too exhausted to clearly form my own made up versions of these characters. For most of this novel I pictured Jude as someone like Rob Zombie. The character of his ex-girlfriend (Florida) I pictured as Sheri Moon Zombie. Was this intentional? I wonder if anyone else pictured them like that. I also got thrown for a loop when it turned out Jude is a grandpa rocker, more like Alice Cooper or Ozzy. After a while I had this odd Frankenstein idea of who this guy was and almost all based on acts that I'm familiar with. This made the main character less special for me.

However, the characters were also majorly stupid. Again, intentional? I didn't understand why these characters were like "I'm terribly wounded but we can't go to the hospital..." and then Jude would be all like, "but I'm a gazillionaire, I could just call a doctor..." and then, NOTHING. This was repeated a few times, too! WTF?! I understand that they might just not be accustomed to asking for help or even that they were so stressed they couldn't think straight, but if you are constantly worried about something being really bad and then you just roll over? I still can't think of any good reason why this was constantly mentioned except to make the reader clearly see what a mess these two were in. It lacked finesse.

Also, the dogs being their protectors. I saw this coming miles before the characters did... intentional? 'Clue the reader in before the characters' sort of deal?

(show spoiler)


The motives for the bad guys weren't very clear. Misguided revenge? Did they really blame Jude for their actions that led up to Florida's fate? Could they just not help themselves and just wanted someone to torture for funsies?

It seemed excessive since Craddock and Florida were already dead and Jude had already moved on.

(show spoiler)

Why drag him back into the picture except because of paranoia and crazy?

After a while I even started thinking that the entire story must be a delusion. Maybe the rock star had a heart-attack and was in a coma or something and he was just reliving what a horrible shit he had been to so many people. It didn't turn out that way. The ending actually left me going, WTF?

I'm used to my horror having a somewhat tragic ending. The ending was... I don't even. For a story that starts off with a guy dropping a grand on a possessed set of clothing, why did he only slip the poor girl $200? Whatever, this really didn't 'ruin' anything for me so I'm just being nit-picky now. If you like happy endings in horror, more power to you! :D

(show spoiler)



On to the good!

 

The ghost (aka the villain) was fantastic! I loved learning about him, how he was such a fucked up human being and how that played into all the ways he menaced the main character.

 

Florida and all her questions... I really liked this character with her ups and downs, her switching from being very much like a child and then moments of clarity as an adult. Georgia (Jude's current girlfriend) was also very important to keep the story moving and to keep Jude grounded. I really liked how Florida and Georgia's story lines came together. Oh, and Bammy!

When Jude finds out it's short for Alabama and has a freak out that maybe he's fucked his girlfriend's grandmother... I laughed out loud.

(show spoiler)


The story weaving and pacing were perfect. There were just enough lulls in between the chaos to make it not too exhausting. As I mentioned earlier, the tension was intense and without the little parts where they could get some time away from the ghost, the characters (and myself) probably wouldn't have made it to the end. My difficulty with reading this for longer periods of time was all me... not the book.

Last but not least, the writing was excellent. The narrative style worked for me, it remained consistent and even when it switched over to Jude towards the end for a scene, that part was done exceptionally well, too.


Some misc. notes with trigger warnings/spoilers. Beware that there is violence against animals in this.

Also, the destruction of vehicles. I really loved how Jude restores cars (this is a fascination of mine) but ah, having Florida's sister destroy that... a very easy way for me to hate that woman more than I already hated her!

(show spoiler)



I noticed that I hopped a bunch with tense here and there and that it's super spoilery in some places (added a note about this at the top of the review). My head is totally on backwards, Linda Blair style. >_< Relaxing for the remainder of the weekend... marathoning Orange is the New Black season 2. Woo!