“Wild, mesmerizing, perversely witty….A Valentine from hell.” —Janet Maslin, New York Times
The publication of Joe Hill’s beautifully textured, deliciously scary debut novel Heart-Shaped Box was greeted with the sort of overwhelming critical acclaim that is rare for a work of skin-crawling supernatural terror. It was cited as a Best Book of the Year by Atlanta magazine, the Tampa Tribune, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and the Village Voice, to name but a few. Award-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling Neil Gaiman of The Sandman, The Graveyard Book, and Anansi Boys fame calls Joe Hill’s story of a jaded rock star haunted by a ghost he purchased on the internet, “relentless, gripping, powerful.” Open this Heart-Shaped Box from two-time Bram Stoker Award-winner Hill if you dare and see what all the well-deserved hoopla is about.
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About the Author
Joe Hill is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the novels The Fireman; NOS4A2; Horns, which was made into a major motion picture starring Daniel Radcliffe; Heart-Shaped Box, which won the Bram Stoker Award and the International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel; and the prizewinning story collection 20th Century Ghosts. He is also the Eisner Award–winning writer of a six-volume comic book series, Locke & Key. He lives in New Hampshire.
Read an Excerpt
Heart Shaped Box
By Joe Hill
William MorrowCopyright © 2007 Joe Hill
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJude had a private collection.
He had framed sketches of the Seven Dwarfs on the wall of his studio, in between his platinum records. John Wayne Gacy had drawn them while he was in jail and sent them to him. Gacy liked golden-age Disney almost as much as he liked molesting little kids; almost as much as he liked Jude's albums.
Jude had the skull of a peasant who had been trepanned in the sixteenth century, to let the demons out. He kept a collection of pens jammed into the hole in the center of the cranium.
He had a three-hundred-year-old confession, signed by a witch. "I did spake with a black dogge who sayd hee wouldst poison cows, drive horses mad and sicken children for me if I wouldst let him have my soule, and I sayd aye, and after did give him sucke at my breast." She was burned to death.
He had a stiff and worn noose that had been used to hang a man in England at the turn of the century, Aleister Crowley's childhood chessboard, and a snuff film. Of all the items in Jude's collection, this last was the thing he felt most uncomfortable about possessing. It had come to him by way of a police officer, a man who had worked security at some shows in L.A. The cop had said the video was diseased. He said it with some enthusiasm. Jude had watched it and felt that he was right. It was diseased. It had also, in an indirect way, helped hasten the end of Jude's marriage. Still he held onto it.
Many of the objectsin his private collection of the grotesque and the bizarre were gifts sent to him by his fans. It was rare for him to actually buy something for the collection himself. But when Danny Wooten, his personal assistant, told him there was a ghost for sale on the Internet, and asked did he want to buy it, Jude didn't even need to think. It was like going out to eat, hearing the special, and deciding you wanted it without even looking at the menu. Some impulses required no consideration.
Danny's office occupied a relatively new addition, extending from the northeastern end of Jude's rambling, 110-year-old farmhouse. With its climate control, OfficeMax furniture, and coffee-and-cream industrial carpet, the office was coolly impersonal, nothing at all like the rest of the house. It might have been a dentist's waiting room, if not for the concert posters in stainless-steel frames. One of them showed a jar crammed with staring eyeballs, bloody knots of nerves dangling from the backs of them. That was for the All Eyes On You tour.
No sooner had the addition been built than Jude had come to regret it. He had not wanted to drive forty minutes from Piecliff to a rented office in Poughkeepsie to see to his business, but that would've probably been preferable to having Danny Wooten right here at the house. Here Danny and Danny's work were too close. When Jude was in the kitchen, he could hear the phones ringing in there, both of the office lines going off at once sometimes, and the sound was maddening to him. He had not recorded an album in years, had hardly worked since Jerome and Dizzy had died (and the band with them), but still the phones rang and rang. He felt crowded by the steady parade of petitioners for his time, and by the never-ending accumulation of legal and professional demands, agreements and contracts, promotions and appearances, the work of Judas Coyne Incorporated, which was never done, always ongoing. When he was home, he wanted to be himself, not a trademark.
For the most part Danny stayed out of the rest of the house. Whatever his flaws, he was protective of Jude's private space. But Danny considered him fair game if Jude strayed into the office - something Jude did, without much pleasure, four or five times a day. Passing through the office was the fastest way to the barn and the dogs. He could've avoided Danny by going out through the front door and walking all the way around the house, but he refused to sneak around his own home just to avoid Danny Wooten.
Besides, it didn't seem possible Danny could always have something to bother him with. But he always did. And if he didn't have anything that demanded immediate attention, he wanted to talk. Danny was from Southern California originally, and there was no end to his talk. He would boast to total strangers about the benefits of wheatgrass, which included making your bowel movements as fragrant as a freshly mowed lawn. He was thirty years old but could talk skateboarding and PlayStation with the pizza-delivery kid like he was fourteen. Danny would get confessional with air-conditioner repairmen, tell them how his sister had OD'd on heroin in her teens and how as a young man he had been the one to find his mother's body after she killed herself. He was impossible to embarrass. He didn't know the meaning of shy.
Jude was coming back inside from feeding Angus and Bon and was halfway across Danny's field of fire - just beginning to think he might make it through the office unscathed - when Danny said, "Hey, Chief, check this out." Danny opened almost every demand for attention with just this line, a statement Jude had learned to dread and resent, a prelude to half an hour of wasted time, forms to fill out, faxes to look at. Then Danny told him someone was selling a ghost, and Jude forgot all about begrudging him. He walked around the desk so he could look over Danny's shoulder at his computer screen.
Danny had discovered the ghost at an online auction site, not eBay but one of the wannabes. Jude moved his gaze over the item description while Danny read aloud. Danny would've cut his food for him if Jude gave him the chance. He had a streak of subservience that Jude found, frankly, revolting in a man.
"'Buy my stepfather's ghost,'" Danny read. "'Six weeks ago my elderly stepfather died, very suddenly. He was staying with us at the time. He had no home of his own and traveled from relative to relative, visiting for a month or two before moving on. Everyone was shocked by his passing, especially my daughter, who was very close to him. No one would've thought. He was active to the end of his life. Never sat in front of the TV. Drank a glass of orange juice every day. Had all his own teeth.'"
"This is a fuckin' joke," Jude said.
"I don't think so," Danny said. He went on: "'Two days after his funeral, my little girl saw him sitting in the guest room, which is directly across from her own bedroom. After she saw him, my girl didn't like to be alone in her room anymore, or even to go upstairs. I told her that her grandfather wouldn't ever hurt her, but she said she was scared of his eyes. She said they were all black scribbles and they weren't for seeing anymore. So she has been sleeping with me ever since.
"'At first I thought it was just a scary story she was telling herself, but there is more to it than that. The guest room is cold all the time. I poked around in there and noticed it was worst in the closet, where his Sunday suit was hung up. He wanted to be buried in that suit, but when we tried it on him at the funeral home, it didn't look right. People shrink up a little after they die. The water in them dries up. His best suit was too big for him, so we let the funeral home talk us into buying one of theirs. I don't know why I listened.
"'The other night I woke up and heard my stepfather walking around overhead. The bed in his room won't stay made, and the door opens and slams shut at all hours. The cat won't go upstairs either, and sometimes she sits at the bottom of the steps looking at things I can't see. She stares awhile, then gives a yowl like her tail got stepped on and runs away.
"'My stepfather was a lifelong spiritualist, and I believe he is only here to teach my daughter that death is not the end. But she is eleven and needs a normal life and to sleep in her own room, not in mine. The only thing I can think is to try and find Pop another home, and the world is full of people who want to believe in the afterlife. Well, I have your proof right here.
"'I will "sell" my stepfather's ghost to the highest bidder. Of course a soul cannot really be sold, but I believe he will come to your home and abide with you if you put out the welcome mat. As I said, when he died, he was with us temporarily and had no place to call his own, so I am sure he would go to where he was wanted. Do not think this is a stunt or a practical joke and that I will take your money and send you nothing. The winning bidder will have something solid to show for their investment. I will send you his Sunday suit. I believe if his spirit is attached to anything, it has to be that.
"'It is a very nice old-fashioned suit made by Great Western Tailoring. It has a fine silver pinstripe,' blah-blah, 'satin lining,' blah-blah...." Danny stopped reading and pointed at the screen. "Check out the measurements, Chief. It's just your size. High bid is eighty bucks. If you want to own a ghost, looks like he could be yours for a hundred."
"Let's buy it," Jude said.
"Seriously? Put in a bid for a hundred dollars?"
Jude narrowed his eyes, peering at something on the screen, just below the item description, a button that said YOURS NOW: $1,000. And beneath that: Click to Buy and End Auction Immediately! He put his finger on it, tapping the glass.
"Let's just make it a grand and seal the deal," he said.
Danny rotated in his chair. He grinned, and raised his eyebrows. Danny had high, arched, Jack Nicholson eyebrows, which he used to great effect. Maybe he expected an explanation, but Jude wasn't sure he could've explained, even to himself, why it seemed reasonable to pay a thousand dollars for an old suit that probably wasn't worth a fifth of that. Later he thought it might be good publicity: Judas Coyne buys a poltergeist. The fans ate up stories like that. But that was later. Right then, in the moment, he just knew he wanted to be the one who bought the ghost.
Jude started on, thinking he would head upstairs to see if Georgia was dressed yet. He had told her to put on her clothes half an hour ago but expected to find her still in bed. He had the sense she planned to stay there until she got the fight she was looking for. She'd be sitting in her underwear, carefully painting her toenails black. Or she'd have her laptop open, surfing Goth accessories, looking for the perfect stud to poke through her tongue, like she needed anymore goddam ... And then the thought of surfing the Web caused Jude to hold up, wondering something. He glanced back at Danny.
"How'd you come across that anyway?" he asked, nodding at the computer.
"We got an e-mail about it."
"From the auction site. They sent us an e-mail that said 'We notice you've bought items like this before, and thought you'd be interested.'"
"We've bought items like this before?"
"Occult items, I assume."
"I've never bought anything off that site."
"Maybe you did and just don't remember. Maybe I bought something for you."
Jude said, "Fuckin' acid. I had a good memory once. I was in the chess club in junior high."
"You were? That's a hell of a thought."
"What? The idea that I was in the chess club?"
"I guess. It seems so ... geeky."
"Yeah. But I used severed fingers for pieces."
Danny laughed - a little too hard, convulsing himself and wiping imaginary tears from the corners of his eyes. The sycophantic little suck-ass.
Chapter TwoThe suit came early Saturday morning. Jude was up and outside with the dogs.
Angus lunged as soon as the UPS truck ground to a halt, and the leash was yanked out of Jude's hand. Angus leaped against the side of the parked truck, spit flying, paws scuffling furiously against the driver's-side door. The driver remained behind the wheel, peering down at him with the calm but intent expression of a doctor considering a new strain of Ebola through a microscope. Jude caught the leash and pulled on it, harder than he meant to. Angus sprawled on his side in the dirt, then twisted and sprang back up, snarling. By now Bon was in on the act, straining at the end of her leash, which Jude held in his other hand, and yapping with a shrillness that hurt his head.
Because it was too far to haul them all the way back to the barn and their pen, Jude dragged them across the yard and up to the front porch, both of them fighting him the whole time. He shoveled them in through the front door and slammed it behind them. Immediately, they set to flinging themselves against it, barking hysterically. The door shuddered as they slammed into it. Fucking dogs.
Jude shuffled back down into the driveway, and reached the UPS truck just as the rear door slid open with a steely clatter. The deliveryman stood inside. He hopped down, holding a long, flat box under his arm.
"Ozzy Osbourne has Pomeranians," the UPS guy said. "I saw them on TV. Cute little dogs like house cats. You ever think about getting a couple cute little dogs like that?"
Jude took the box without a word and went inside.
He brought the box through the house and into the kitchen. He put it on the counter and poured coffee. Jude was an early riser by instinct and conditioning. When he was on the road, or recording, he had become accustomed to rolling into bed at five in the morning and sleeping through most of the daylight hours, but staying up all night had never come naturally. On the road, he would wake at four in the afternoon, bad-tempered and headachy, confused about where the time had gone. Everyone he knew would seem to him clever imposters, unfeeling aliens wearing rubber skin and the faces of friends. It took a liberal quantity of alcohol to make them seem like themselves again.
Only it had been three years since he'd last gone on tour. He didn't have much interest in drinking when he was home, and was ready for bed most nights by nine. At the age of fifty-four, he had settled back into the rhythms that had guided him since his name was Justin Cowzynski and he was a boy on his father's hog farm. The illiterate son of a bitch would have dragged him out of bed by the hair if he'd found him in it when the sun came up. It was a childhood of mud, barking dogs, barbed wire, dilapidated farm buildings, squealing pigs with their flaking skin and squashed-in faces, and little human contact, beyond a mother who sat most of the day at the kitchen table wearing the slack, staring aspect of someone who had been lobotomized, and his father, who ruled their acres of pig shit and ruin with his angry laughter and his fists.
So Jude had been up for several hours already but had not eaten breakfast yet, and he was frying bacon when Georgia wandered into the kitchen. She was dressed only in a pair of black panties, her arms folded across her small, white, pierced breasts, her black hair floating around her head in a soft, tangly nest. Her name wasn't really Georgia. It wasn't Morphine either, although she had stripped under that name for two years. Her name was Marybeth Kimball, a handle so simple, so plain, she'd laughed when she first told him, as if it embarrassed her.
Jude had worked his way through a collection of Goth girlfriends who stripped, or told fortunes, or stripped and told fortunes, pretty girls who wore ankhs and black fingernail polish, and whom he always called by their state of origin, a habit few of them cared for, because they didn't like to be reminded of the person they were trying to erase with all their living-dead make-up. She was twenty-three.
"Goddam stupid dogs," she said, shoving one of them out of her way with her heel. They were whisking around Jude's legs, excited by the perfume of the bacon. "Woke me the fuck up."
"Maybe it was time to get the fuck up. Ever think?" She never rose before ten if she could help it.
She bent into the fridge for the orange juice. He enjoyed the view, the way the straps of her underwear cut into the almost-too-white cheeks of her ass, but he looked away while she drank from the carton. She left it on the counter, too. It would spoil there if he didn't put it away for her.
He was glad for the adoration of the Goths. He appreciated the sex even more, their limber, athletic, tattooed bodies and eagerness for kink. But he had been married once, to a woman who used a glass and put things away when she was done, who read the paper in the morning, and he missed their talk. It was grown-up talk. She hadn't been a stripper. She didn't believe in fortune-telling. It was grown-up companionship.
Georgia used a steak knife to slice open the UPS box, then left the knife on the counter, with tape stuck to it.
"What's this?" she asked.
A second box was contained within the first. It was a tight fit, and Georgia had to tug for a while to slide the inner box out onto the counter. It was large, and shiny, and black, and it was shaped like a heart. Candies sometimes came in boxes like that, although this was much too big for candies, and candy boxes were pink or sometimes yellow. A lingerie box, then - except he hadn't ordered anything of the kind for her. He frowned. He didn't have any idea what might be in it, and at the same time felt somehow he should know, that the heart-shaped box contained something he'd been expecting.
"Is this for me?" she asked.
Excerpted from Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill Copyright © 2007 by Joe Hill. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I heard a lot of people raving about this book and the "rental line" was too long, so I decided to buy it and find out what others liked about it.
Left me feeling a little uneasy in the dark...check
Made me appreciate contemporaries again...check
Great story, real characters and I liked that the main character was not the typical young, hot-blooded male. He's mature and has been through and has seen a lot of crap during his time. I didn't like him at first, but he grew on me and in the end, I loved him.
The book draws you in and keeps you on the edge the entire length of the book with its twists and turns. It's graphic, but endearing at the same time.
This is a keeper.
Who knew that "horror-genes" exist? Obviously, Stephen King's son got HIS share!...lol! It's been a long time since a book has impressed me to the extent where I STILL get shivers--months after resding the book--when I think about it! Bravo! I'll look forward to many more!
I have never read a book that literally made me scared to be alone. This is the one. It's a great read that keeps you wondering what is next. I couldn't put it down but I was scared to pick it up at night..Great book.
Joe Hill has crept into my house and made me turn on my lights to check for ghosts. This novel will make one think twice about antiques. The main character Jude is a death metal rocker with a sick twist on colletibles. He collects aynything to do with death and the occult, he even has a snuff film in his collection. So when he comes across a chance at buying a ghost online he doesn't think twice about it. This purchase may just cost him more than money, it may just cost him his life.
This novel was so good that I had to check twice to make sure that it was his first one. This book was phenomenal and it reminded me of someone else. As I was looking up the author I found out that he comes from a distinguished family. He is the son of Stephen and Tabitha King, they obviously know a little bit about writing.
This novel kept me reading well into the night, at the expense of my own fears. The way that he uses shorter chapters with a long one interspersed in between makes it seem like you have read for an hour when it has been four. The characters seem believeable and it is easy to start to believe that you are reading a biography instead of a fiction novel.
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes horror, suspense, or just a good book to read. Stephen King fans will be happy with this book, it made me think back to his older books and want to go back and re-read them. Next on my list is to pick up Joe Hill's new book, 20th Century Ghosts. Pick up your copy today, just read it with the lights on.
Protagonist: Judas Coyne is one of those selfish characters who you are supposed to dislike at first but come to love in the end when me becomes more selfless. A good job is done with his character, but this guy is nowhere near John Edward Marinville from Stephen King’s Desperation, or Darrell form The Walking Dear, or Sawyer from Lost. He is a whole character who acts according to the way he was drawn up. Antagonist The bad guy is a ghost, Craddock McDermott. Though this character is mostly well thought out, it would had been better if the author would have gone more into how his hypnotic methods work. Dean Koontz has a few novels where the bad guys use hypnotism, and their methods are spelled out very well, really making the reading thing. Hill doesn’t really do this as much as just saying that his character has methods that work. Storyline and writing: The story did drag in placed, especially at the beginning. In general the theme of the book is a good idea. It could have been a lot shorter, though. Overall There are flashes of a good writer here. I would read him again, to see if he’s gotten better. But overall, I didn’t think this was a really good book.
Joe Hill has successfully planted his writer's flag in the world of fiction with this incredible debut novel. He launches his story using a classic horror device - a haunted object, and then obliterates all cliches and standards where the genre is concerned. His story was thrilling, terrifying, and beyond comparison. It's rare to read an author who can create such originality using such a common theme.
Really scarey! I gave it to a friend to read and she gave it back a few days later saying she was afraid to continue. I enjoyed it.
This novel started off wonderfully, with a very creepy, original ghost story with genuinely scary sequences, but then lost it's steam rapidly due to a plotline surrounding the ghost's motivation and backstory
I usually don't read "horror" stories, but noticed all the good reviews. Characters were extremely well-developed; I felt like I knew them each personally. Definitely a book to read during the day, in the light.
Rock star Judas Coyne loves collecting gruesome macabre junk. He always checks E-Bay and other on-line sites to see if any collectibles are for sale. He recently purchased a suit at an online auction in which the seller claims the attire is haunted by the ghost of the dead owner.--------------- Judas thinks of five degrees of separation when he learns who the ghostly owner of the suit is apparently his new possession belonged to the late Craddock McDermott, the stepfather of a superfluous groupie he tossed aside before she committed suicide over being coldly discarded by the famous rocker. Craddock vowed revenge when he was alive but had to wait for death to complete his quest as his spirit plans to kill Judas.---------------- The dueling lead characters make this a fascinating psychological ghost story as nothing is quite like it seems. Readers will start off thinking Judas is a cold hedonist and Craddock is kindhearted stepfather who cannot rest until he obtains an eye for an eye. However, agendas and deeper motives surface during the exciting story line that will have the audience stunned. Horror fans will believe in ghosts at least in Joe Hill novels.---------- Harriet Klausner
If you are a Stephen King fan, especially "classic" King, you must read his son Joe Hill! Excellent book, couldn't put it down. Looking forward to reading everything else he has written!
I'm reading Heart-Shaped Box right now and I can barely put it down! I love it! I love the characters, Jude, Danny, and Marybeth (Georgia)! Joe Hill is amazing!
Joe Hill’s first novel is an enjoyable enough—if at times uneven—diversion. He builds upon a clever premise (What would happen if you bought a ghost on the Internet?) and fashions a tale about an aging rocker—Jude, the main character—who achieves redemption by avenging the evil misdeeds of the ghost he “buys.” The tale features many aspects of the classic hero myth, with Jude as our unlikely champion. When he is first visited by the ghost, he is reluctant to battle it but eventually embarks upon a journey in order to defeat it. That journey outward leads him home and is, of course, actually a journey inward, for—by redeeming the evil misdeeds of the ghost—he ultimately redeems himself. He encounters damsels in distress and receives supernatural assistance via the spirit animals of his two pet dogs (Angus and Bon—yes, references to AC/DC). There’s even an element of the Oedipus myth thrown in for good measure. In all, “Heart-Shaped Box” is a fun read and eclipses the by-the-numbers formula of many a ghost story. My hope is that this novel is a mere appetizer for heartier subsequent novels.
This was my first Joe Hill experience and I was beyond impressed! He had me jumping and clinging to the book, then sighing with relief. Then I was back to gasping, hunched over the book waiting with anticipation. What a nail biter! An amazing read by an amazing author. Way to go, Joe!
This book was wonderful! It grabbed me from the first line until the last. It is a wonderfully complicated story and many times I wondered if it was going to end abruptly but it didn't. I definitely recommend this!
Very enjoyable read. I found myself having vivid and twisted dreams about lost friends and family members. Rarely does a book derail the standard role my loved-ones play in my dreams but this one did and that magnified the creepy factor of the book dramatically. Excellent first novel if what I hope will be a long and productive writing career. Now if only I could get an un-troubled night's sleep...
The first of his novels that i have read. I look forward to reading more of his writings.
It's been a long time since I read a book that I could not put down. This one grabs you from the beginning. A main character that you want to win but never know if he will. A ghost you'd like to kill for a second time! Great book.
This is one of those books you just zone into while reading. It's different then any other ghost story I've read, but still a very good book. The ending was amazing. I recommend this to anyone. Now that I've read this I'm definitely going to purchase the next book, Horns.
I couldn't help thinking while reading this novel that it's a book Stephen King might produce if anybody had the nerve to edit his manuscripts these days. Lean writing, nicely spooky scenes and explicit about the necessity of dog ownership should you choose to tangle with a vengeful ghost. Didn't put it down for about six hours.
For the first time in a long while, I truly felt a chill while reading. There were several genuinely scary passages in this book. A well-written foray into the supernatural, it was always grounded in psychological reality with characters that were original and multi-dimensional. This is a very promising start to what should be a long and successful career.
When I first started reading this book,I was having some trouble getting into it - I thought it was slow and was going to be like a 100 other ghost stories I had read but for some reason, I couldn't put this book down. I loved it! I thought it was very well written and I have looked high and low for other books by Joe Hill. This is truly one of the best ghost stories I have read. I look forward to more good ghost stories from Joe Hill.
I had nightmares. I finished the book several days ago and it's still with me. I'm having trouble starting a new book and usually I start a new book right after I finish one. If that doesn't say it all, then....this is an amazing book! The characters are so real. And you find yourself so invested in them that you want to somehow help them. It's like a great horror show where you are in the audience wanting to scream, 'NO! Don't do that!' There are scenes in the book that were so vivid it was like a little movie running in my head. Great mental pictures. There were times, especially around the end of the book, where I seriously could not put the book down. Horror is not generally my favorite genre, but this one was so well written I'm glad I read it. Now, I'm telling all my friends to read it. Now, when will Joe Hill have another one to read? Can't wait!
How this book got a 4 star rating is beyond me. This is one of the only books I couldn't finish and believe me I tried. I read the preview and thought because of the high rating it would get better and went ahead and purchased it. Big mistake. It's not scary, just a weird, convoluted mess. I had to re-read too many sections because I thought I must have missed something but, nope, just awful writing. If you want scary stick with the biggies that know how to write horror - King, Koonz, etc.