Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill © 2009 William Morrow

I liked Hill’s more recent Horns and NOS4A2, so I backed up and read his debut. Aging death metal rock star, Judas Coyne, purchases on ebay what is billed as a “ghost” to add to his collection of disturbing memorabilia. The delivery truck brings Coyne a man’s suit inside a heart shaped box. Turns out the suit belongs to the father of Coyne’s former girlfriend, “Florida,” whom Coyne ditched because of her mental problems, and who wound up committing suicide. The ghost of Florida’s father appears in the suit, urging Coyne and others in Coyne’s life to kill themselves and each other. The ghost’s apparent motive is revenge against Coyne for how he treated Florida.

Unusual and interesting ghost story premise. Coyne and his current girlfriend, “Alabama,” hit the road to stay one step ahead of the ghost and its evil urgings, and also to track down Florida’s sister, who tricked Coyne into buying the suit in the first place. Coyne and Alabama hope to persuade Florida’s sis to call off the ghost. The road trip mainly served as time for Coyne to reflect on Florida and his personal failings. Box did get a little backstory-heavy at this point, but not intolerably so.

By the time they find Florida’s sis, Coyne has learned in visions from the dead Florida the real circumstances of her death. The ghost’s motivation is not what Coyne had believed, and the sis isn’t about to let Coyne off the ghost-hook. It was a nice plot twist. With a lot of help from Alabama, Florida, and some dogs, Coyne manages to eventually rid himself of the ghost and become a better person.

I wasn’t sure of the purpose served by the main character being a celebrity, but Hill presented flawed-yet-sympathetic characters in a big struggle that forced them to confront internal demons as much as external ones. Those are all the elements of a good story and the reason Heart Shaped Box is the third Joe Hill book on my permanent shelf.

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