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Literature / Heart-Shaped Box

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The first full-length horror novel by Joe Hill.

Semi-retired rockstar Judas Coyne likes to complement his dark and edgy persona with a collection of strange and macabre items, most donated by his fans. These include things like a witch's confession, a used hangman's noose, and a genuine Snuff Film (which he only saw once, then locked away forever). One day, he is sent an email directing his attention to the online auction of a dead man's suit, evidently still haunted by the dead man's ghost.

Jude doesn't even think twice before buying it.

Soon enough, the suit is delivered to his place in a heart-shaped box. And what do you know... the ghost reveals himself to be real! Except the dead man, Craddock McDermott, a hypnotist and occultist in life, doesn't like Jude one bit. It turns out Jude unknowingly has a connection with the dead man, and the real ghosts of his past are about to come back with a vengeance.

Heart-Shaped Box provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: All over the place.
    • Jude's father was a wife-beating, drunk asshole who broke his son's fingers after Jude's first attempt to learn guitar playing. In his final assault, Craddock uses Jude's dying father as a vessel, making the attack even more nightmarish.
    • Jessica seems to be a loving mother, but is secretly involved in Parental Incest practices on her daughter, encouraged by Craddock.
    • Craddock takes the cake as the most hideous character in the cast. He abused both his daughters sexually, and using hypnotism to make them more receptive, then manipulated Jessica into making her daughter another object for his incestuous practices, and finally topped himself with taking Florida away from Jude, trying to put her back into her original state as his sex slave, and when that fails, conspires with Jessica to kill Florida and destroy Jude.
  • Arc Words: Craddock spouts a couple.
    • "We will ride at nightfall."
    • "The dead pull the living down."
  • Black Eyes of Evil: Craddock has sinister black shapes covering his eyes, looking like someone marked them out with a pencil. Subverted when another, non-malicious ghost is revealed to have the same kind of eyes. Florida later reveals it's the only way for ghosts to see the world of the living without being blinded, like Jude is when he sees Heaven.
  • Collector of the Strange: Jude. Bordering on Too Dumb to Live, since he keeps purchasing all sorts of morbid curios even after one of them - the Snuff Film - directly contributes to the smoldering wreck his personal life is.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Jude is a heavy metal star and a morbid, cynical Jerkass, but definitely not as evil as his act would suggest.
  • Deep South: Birthplace of most of the characters, and the location of most of Jude and Georgia's haunted road trip pursued by Craddock.
  • Distracted from Death: Angus dies on the backseat of Jude's car without Jude noticing at first, with only a few minutes passing between the last time he saw Angus alive and when he realizes the dog finally died.
  • Do Not Adjust Your Set: One of Craddock's favourite methods of communication, talking through televisions, radios, an electrolarynx, etc.
  • Driven to Suicide: Craddock's favourite MO. Didn't quite work on Florida, though.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Jude's two dogs, Angus and Bon, can detect Craddock's presence, and protect him and Georgia for most of the story. That is, until Craddock eventually kills both of them.
  • Fingore: A recurring motif.
    • Jude's father punishes him for running off to play a show in New Orleans by smashing his left hand in the basement door. The after-effects of the injury force Jude to start playing guitar left-handed.
    • Georgia pricks her thumb on a (phantom) pin in Craddock's suit, leading to an infection that gradually eats away at both hands.
    • Reese shoots Jude's right index finger off.
  • Ghostly Goals: Type B — making the living suffer is an end in itself.
  • Girl Friday: Jude's lawyer has shades of this, being one of his former "State Girls" and the person who provides a coverup story for his "adventure".
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Georgia started off as a molested teen, moved on to being a stripper and by the time we meet her, she's been Jude's lover for a while, fully aware of her sex toy status. It doesn't stop her from genuinely caring for Jude, taking his verbal abuse and tolerating his weirdness. She stays with him to face Craddock despite the odds, even attempting to pull a Heroic Sacrifice in the end. She survives, and the two eventually get married.
  • Impaled Palm: Jude drives a shard of a smashed platinum record into his hand in order to stop himself from killing Georgia under Craddock's influence.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Jude is rather prickly as a person, especially to his girlfriends, who all end up leaving him due to his aloof nature and verbal abuse (when he doesn't leave them, like he did with Florida). It's easy to assume based on how young they are he's really only just using them for sex. However, it's shown throughout the novel that deep down he does care about them and other people, and it's the years of abuse he endured throughout his life that's caused him to act like a Jerkass.
  • May–December Romance: All of Jude's "state girls" are considerably younger than he is. At one point he realises he is possibly older than Georgia's grandmother.
  • The Nicknamer: Jude nicknames all of his girlfriends after their state of origin. He briefly freaks out when it's revealed that Georgia's grandmother's nickname, Bammy, is short for "Alabama". In the epilogue, we get to meet another "State Girl".
  • Secret-Keeper: Jude kept the secret about one of his bandmate's homosexuality well after the latter's death.
  • Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: Jude is a veteran rocker, but hasn't actually played with his band in a long time. He spent four years addicted to cocaine, but kicked the habit.
  • Shout-Out: Lots of shout outs to Rock & Roll, including the book's overall title and the title of each of its four sections.
  • Snuff Film: Because of his reputation as a Collector of the Strange, he gets sent a snuff film from a fan. He accepts the gift, and eventually his wife finds it, which instantly ends the marriage.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: A vision of the past reveals Craddock to have been one, using his powers to fuck with a POW's head.
  • Stage Name: Judas Coyne. His real name is Justin Cowzynski.
    • Meaningful Name: "Judas Coyne" is an allusion to how Jude felt about his relationship with his parents, especially about allowing the continuing abuse of his mother by his father.