Like Father, Too Much Like Son?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Any consistent readers of this blog know that I am a superfan of Stephen King.  Despite his many books, the movies made from them, and his gobs of money, I believe he is under-appreciated in literary circles; dismissed as a genre writer, making his name by selling us the same story over and over.  While clearly not every book he has ever written is a literary masterpiece (though I've loved them all), The Stand, It, and The Dark Tower series are masterpieces, in my humble opinion.  As an avid reader and defender of King's literary merit, I was excited to discover that his son, Joe Hill, is also a writer.  I mean, surely the apple didn't fall far from the tree, right?

Hill's debut novel, Heart Shaped Box, is the story of Judas Coyne, and aging heavy metal star with an interest in the macabre and occult.  When an actual ghost is offered for sale on the internet, he can't resist.  The suit containing the ghost arrives in a heart-shaped box, and loses no time in terrorizing Coyne and those closest to him.

In my professional life, I'm taught to lead with the positive, so here it is-this books is scary.  I mean really scary.  I was creeped out pretty much from beginning to end.  It is fast-paced, and when the final show-down comes you are not disappointed.  The characters are pretty well drawn, and there is that subtext of redemption that is present in so many horror novels.  I did feel a little bit of whiplash at the beginning, as Hill wastes no time getting us into the action.  The characters stories are doled out a little at a time, which made the beginning a little disjointed for me.  But eventually all became clear, and there were some twists that I didn't see coming, which I always appreciate.

Despite that, I am left not loving this book, and I'll tell you why-it felt very much like one of his father's not-so-brilliant books.  It is clear to me that Hill has read everything his father has ever written, and whether purposeful or not, some of it ended up in this book.  I kept getting distracted thinking, "Oh, that's like in Christine", or "Hmm, that reminds me of Needful Things" and "Gee, didn't something like this happen in It?"  Yes, I realize that in the first paragraph of this post I said that I chose this book at least partly in hopes that Joe Hill would be like his dad-what can I say, I'm fickle like that!

I don't usually read other reviews of a book before reviewing it myself, but I did check some out for this book, because I thought that maybe I was imagining this Kingcentricness.  While most "official" reviews seem to praise it, the word on Goodreads and blogs is that people were disappointed-one even went so far as to say that Stephen King should be disappointed in his son.  I won't go that far, but I will say that unless Joe Hill, author, can find a way to distance himself from papa, he will probably continue to be perceived as Stephen King-lite, published more for who he is than what he writes.


  1. Yes, this book was incredibly creepy... and I don't usually go for that. I've heard good things about Hill's more recent book "Horns" I think its called... and may check that out someday!

  2. I have this one waiting on my bookshelf & can't wait to read it. I think it's envitable that Joe Hill will be compared to Stephen King & it's a blessing/curse that he's writing in the same genre as his dad. It's funny you mentioned distinct similarities because I've found that King sometimes uses old tricks & twists from his own books in newer ones!

  3. You know, when the father does it I feel like he's done it for his loyal readers, kind of like an inside joke. Obviously when your father is the most successful horror writer on the planet you can't help but be influenced. I guess I wanted to feel the influence a little less is all.


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