Heart-Shaped Box
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Joe Hill is a terrific, imaginative writer. I read Horns a while back and was blown away by the bizarre nightmare-like quality of the events. It’s easy to see the beginnings of that in this, his first book. He certainly excels—and the story is at its best—when the odd and surreal are at the forefront.

What I love about Hill’s style is that he paints intricate portraits. He provides the reader with vivid descriptions of what’s going on, how it looks, and what direction its going. You needn’t guess how big an apparition is or to which side of it the protagonist is standing, because the author tells you. He has a keen sense of place and continuity, the lack of which can be incredibly annoying and confusing for readers. (This detailed quality of narrative is also something I have always loved about his dad, Stephen King. Maybe Joe inherited it! It’s certainly hard to teach—I know from years of teaching composition and rhetoric…)

The only thing that lacked for me was the ending. “After all, that’s the most important part of the story, the ending” (Secret Window, Secret Garden by Stephen King). Here’s why I was slightly disappointed with it:

[SPOILER ahead]

While dark and violent, the book as a whole is quite hopeful—it’s all about fighting something that seems indomitable, love conquering all, and that kind of shmaltz. Well, the ending got a bit too wrapped-and-tied-with-a-bow for me: Jude and Marybeth live happily ever after, travel the world, and can even be friends with a girl who tried to kill them and is related to the demented dead dude that they narrowly escaped. Hmm.

Another issue with the ending that is that it was wrapped up in that neat bow too quickly and tersely. For example, we get told that Jude has some more musical success, and that he rebuilds another car—all portraying the return to normalcy. I’m not a big fan of being told; I’d rather SEE. It would have been great to witness instead a few scenes of that return to normalcy.

Finally, something seemed incomplete … the story is seeped in the triumph of the human spirit, grounded love, and hope for the future; what better symbol could there be of that than if Marybeth were pregnant at the end? Instead, she and a rapidly aging Jude take a trip once in while and otherwise live in seclusion. Is that all there is after all they went through? But, of course, that’s just my opinion; others might think their life is bliss.

Overall, this is a satisfyingly creepy thrill-ride (on the nightroad) for fans of the macabre. Enjoy!

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