Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill *****

In the spirit of October, I am using days when I have no newly released or about to be released books to cover creepy stories with ghosts, demons, or just really creepy people in them. I read Heart-Shaped Box a year ago, and it remains one of my favorite horror titles. It’s is an outstanding piece of work, and it also answers a question I held for a long time.

Okay, so here I start talking about the author’s father, heart-shapedboxSteve King, which is dreadful, because Hill is such a fine writer in his own right, and his style and King’s share nothing but the genre, and the assumption at the core of it, which is what I was idly reaching for, and not finding, for decades. It answers the question as to why I always took King for a good human being, long before his memoir was written. Before this, I would have guessed at his obvious distaste and anger toward domestic violence and objectification of women, for example. But Hill’s narration gives it to us in a nutshell, and he does it in this book:

Sympathy lies at the heart of horror.

Forehead slap! OF COURSE! Why didn’t I get that before now? Even as we read faster, flip those damn pages, we do it because we care about the protagonist, or at least about someone there in the story. We want the very best for them in the midst of all the horror. Ultimately, so does the writer.

As for this novel itself, the pacing and characterizations were splendid, flawless to my eye. I could have done without the brief part played by the snuff film, but one can skim through these parts and come out in time for the build up, climax, and resolution. There is tremendous originality even as the writer also draws upon tradition. Fascinating.

Hill has an edgy writing style, and he has guts. Long may he write!

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