Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ex Libris: Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box

I'm sure it must be a bitch to be constantly living under the shadow of a famous parent. Take for example, J.K. Rowling's kid: I'm sure it would be hard for her child to have a career in writing, especially in terms of kid's adventure stories like say, a boy wizard. And what about Simon Tolkien, the grandson of fantasy grandmaster J.R.R. Tolkien who became a crime novelist?

So if you think about it, Joe Hill, the son of horror icon Stephen King, must have been called when he started writing horror stories. The fact that he uses a distinct family name means that he wants to be judged by his own work. Still, you can't escape your past (which is ironic, since that's the idea also in this book).

Personally, I heard only great things about Hill's short fiction but it was later on that I learned that he was King's son. I finally managed to get around reading one short story of his ("My Father's Mask" in the 19th edition of the Year's Best of Fantasy and Horror) and was suitably impressed both by the story and the prose.

Luckily enough, both of his books soon reached the local shores and I quickly picked 'em up: the novel Heart-Shaped Box and the collection 20th Century Ghosts. I haven't gotten around to reading the short-story compilation yet but Hill's first novel-- about an aging rocker who finds his ghosts come back to haunt him-- shows promise, being both scary and human at times (which is a King writing touch if you think about it).

In this book, Judas Coyne is a semi-retired metal rocker who's living a quiet life on his farm with his two dogs, his series of goth chicks bed-mates and his unique collection of the macabre. So when he finds out someone's selling a ghost on the Internet, he figures it would look good with his aforementioned collection. (Geez, the things they sell on the web these days.) Obviously not a good idea and he finds out that a pissed off ghost is hard to shake off.

What separates the writing of Hill from his father, I think, is the little fact that there were sections in Heart-Shaped Box that actually gave me little shivers of fright. Personally, I think I'm inured by horror writing nowadays such that it would take something big and different to scare me. But reading particular excerpts from Hill's book reminded me of those times when I would exchange ghost stories with friends and I'd get a hackle-raising fright from it. Yes, sometimes doing it the old-school way still works.

Likewise, Hill's protagonist reminded me so much at times of King's stock main characters. However, I was genuinely surprised with his handling of Coyne's girlfriend, Georgia. From my assessment of her as a goth-girl walk-through character, she turned out to be quite a sympathetic supporting character whom I found myself rooting for.

At the very least, you don't have to deal with the mythology of older writers, i.e. King's Dark Tower or F. Paul Wilson's The Tomb when reading new writers. So if you're looking for a horror writer whose career you can grow with and keep track of, try Joe Hill. (Rating: 3 out of 4 paws)


buddha said...

BC, both are AWESOME books. I'm glad you got a hold of them. :D

banzai cat said...

Heh you've read both of them already? Lucky you. ;-)