My Love Story/Review of Heart-Shaped Box

Joe's first novel.

My Love Story/Review of Heart-Shaped Box

Postby BentheWriter on Tue May 13, 2008 10:54 pm

This is reposted from my website: http://benthewriter.blogspot.com/

When I first tried to read Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box, I couldn't make it through the second chapter before I threw it down in disgust. Here was a book the base for which people were proclaiming the author to be the next Stephen King (an extremely unfair comparison,) and it was about a guy buying a ghost on the internet. It pissed me off. I felt betrayed. "Has the world gone mad?" I thought. This was juvenile, unemotional trash! How was there supposed to be any real motive, any emotional drive in such a tale? It offended me as both a reader and a writer.

Boy, was I wrong, and boy am I glad I gave it another shot. If you just stick with it past those first two chapters, you'll discover it's a whole 'nother story, nothing like the ostensibly simplistic event that kicks it off.

What makes Heart-Shaped Box so brilliant isn't so much the story- though it is a pretty good story- as much as the characters involved. I haven't felt so emotionally attached, so intimately involved with a set of characters in a long time. Hill is sneaky about it, too- by the end of the book you find yourself choking up over characters you thought you hated.

My problems with the book are small: a few parts where I thought the back story could've been a bit more subtle, and one technical bone to pick- the dialog. There are some great exchanges in the book, and when they work they work well, but there are parts that come off rather wooden. A large distraction in the dialog is Hill's use of apostrophes. Every time a character speaks with some dialect or omits a letter or two, Hill seems to feel duty-bound to tack on that little apostrophe. This detracts from the line being spoken, makes it feel more like a line than a real statement. This is a pity, since a sizable element of the story deals with dialect and how people speak.

Still, these are small issues, and overall it really is a fantastic book filled with straight storytelling and some beautiful stylistic devices (Including one fantastic one dealing with a particular person's emergence from unconsciousness.)

Hill is not afraid to step out and deviate from the standard form, but does not stoop to gimmicks. He delivers a story that is as touching as it is gripping, and does it with a grace and visual style that plays like a film in the head, and fills me with envy.

I look forward to seeing more from Mr. Joe Hill, and will be purchasing his short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts, shortly. I have bookmarked his website, and will not be surprised if he develops into one of my new favorite authors.

Plus, he has a scruffy beard.
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Postby sybil on Wed May 14, 2008 12:15 pm

ben, i hope that you have perused the board enough to see that we often disagree with each other, but we don't get mean. i hope so, because i really really disagree with this:

Every time a character speaks with some dialect or omits a letter or two, Hill seems to feel duty-bound to tack on that little apostrophe.

why wouldn't he attach the apostrophe? it's proper spelling if you drop a letter(s), an apostrophe is needed. i didn't find it distracting at all, it added to the sense of what they were saying, for me.

i'm sorry it distracted you, but i just didn't get that. glad you loved it overall, tho!

if you thought the premise at the beginning of HSB was juvenile and unbelievable, wait'll you start "pop art" in 2CG !! haha, i'll be anxious to hear what you think of that story! (if you've posted already, sorry - i haven't been to that thread today yet.)
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Postby BentheWriter on Wed May 14, 2008 9:08 pm

Don't worry about it; I'm pretty hard to rile up.

I'll just say that there are a lot of proper grammar rules that are broken routinely in order to produce good fiction. Some of these can be found in The Elements of Style, which is as close to Divine Law as you can get, and some go unmentioned, and are thus quite debatable.

This is definitely a debatable issue. I believe the words themselves make up the substance of the character's talk, and stand alone quite well without the apostrophe. It's unnecessary. The only real reason to include one is to tell the reader, "See, this isn't a typo, I'm not stupid, I intentionally did this, don't think I'm ignorant!" It's like a person who has to say, "just kidding," after every joke he tells for fear he might offend or be misunderstood. It's a sign of timidity, which is never good in writing.

Thank for reading and replying though, I truly appreciate it. I'm not knocking on Joe here, I think he's a genuinely good writer, I just wanted to be completely honest in my review. Finding what bothers me in other people's writing and discussing it with others will hopefully help me improve my own.

I look forward to reading his shorts. I'll probably head out and buy 2CG tomorrow, then we can see what we disagree on! :twisted:

Thanks for the reply.
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Postby jodi on Wed May 14, 2008 10:54 pm

Ben are you part of "TEAL"? If you are then you know what I'm talking about...
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Postby LoganRaider on Wed May 14, 2008 11:27 pm

Ben, you will definitely like his short stories. While HSB is fast-paced and in your face, 20th Century Ghosts is full of very subtle, nuances stories. I loved both books, but in very different ways.
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Postby sybil on Thu May 15, 2008 11:25 am

The only real reason to include one is to tell the reader, "See, this isn't a typo, I'm not stupid, I intentionally did this, don't think I'm ignorant!"

hahaha...i see what you're saying. still, the apostrophes didn't bother me a whit, i don't even remember them. thanks for taking my opnion as just that, as i also respect yours. i didn't want to piss off a newbie at the get-go.

i didn't mean that we'd disagree on "pop art" - aaargh....can't say what i want, because i don't want to spoil it in any way for you. i'll be watching to see if you post in that thread, and can't wait to see what it is.
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Postby Carrie on Thu May 15, 2008 1:22 pm

I'm pro-apostrophe. :) I don't think it looks timid at all, indeed, I think it's grammatically preferable in most cases. (Such as when YOU wrote that something was a "whole 'nother story". Hee.)

Example: I can't stand to see Nothin instead of Nothin' because you clearly need something to replace the dropped G. However, if the writer is going whole hog and having the character say Nuthin, then it doesn't need the end apostrophe because you're using a full "casual speech dialect" word. Does that distinction make sense?

Also, I got a connection to the main character right off the bat, and I'm surprised that you had to get to chapter 3 to get into HSB. I'll stay spoiler-free for now, but I really felt that there was a depth there right away, I didn't think "buying a ghost on the internet" was all that was going on... I do agree that the characters are the driving force of the book, better than the story itself (which is pretty darn good).
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Postby BentheWriter on Thu May 15, 2008 1:53 pm

Carrie: I think we're somewhat in agreement on the apostrophe thing. I included it in my review because it is nonfiction, in my voice, intentionally used as a cliche. I don't use it in character dialog, unless perhaps the speaker is affecting the dialect in a sarcastic way, in which case the character is intentionally calling attention to the missing letter, and if writing it him/herself would place it there.

I think your distinction definitely makes sense.

As for connecting to the characters, I did feel a connection with Jude (though obviously not as strong as I felt by the end), I just didn't feel much for the other characters, which I think was probably Joe's intention.


~~~Caution, here the be spoilers, though not really explicit ones~~~



For instance, we first see Georgia as an annoying just-a-piece-of-ass bitch, and she even goes so far as to kick one of the dogs. She's pretty much unlikable, until Hill starts to peel away her outer layers, slowly but surely revealing more and more of who she really is and why she acts as she does. By the end of the book we love her just as much as we love Jude, making the whole should-he-die-for-her-or-she-die-for-him conflict all the more terrible.

Just an example. Hell, I was surprised by how much I felt for Danny by the end of it, and he was one hard dude to like.
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Postby jodi on Thu May 15, 2008 9:14 pm

Ben, I guess your not a member of TEAL. Go check out this website, they make me chuckle...
http://www.jeffdeck.com/teal/about.html
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Postby BentheWriter on Thu May 15, 2008 9:24 pm

Oh yeah, I googled it when you mentioned it, and spent a good twenty minutes laughing to myself. Funny stuff.

(By the way, I find it humorous that not only have I been arguing with someone online about APOSTROPHES, but other people have joined the debate. And people think readers are nerdlings. Pshhh.)
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Postby jodi on Fri May 16, 2008 7:49 am

BentheWriter wrote:Oh yeah, I googled it when you mentioned it, and spent a good twenty minutes laughing to myself. Funny stuff.

(By the way, I find it humorous that not only have I been arguing with someone online about APOSTROPHES, but other people have joined the debate. And people think readers are nerdlings. Pshhh.)


I thought at first you were the Ben on there. I love how some people were more than happy to let them correct and others just got pissed.
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Postby Carrie on Fri May 16, 2008 9:01 am

I am a total grammar nerd and proud of it. Hey, did anyone else get really pissed off at the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation? It should be Zero-Tolerance with a hyphen, for crying out loud.

Anyway, I agree with you, BentheWriter, about the character of Georgia. I thought she was going to be a minor character at first, more atmosphere than anything else, but then she turned out to be a huge character... and by then I really liked her.
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Postby joe_hill on Sat May 17, 2008 4:59 pm

Ben,

I'm glad you went back and restarted H-SB after putting it down, and even more glad you enjoyed it. And I appreciate the kind review.

On the subject of southern characters who get to talkin' like this with the g's fallin' off the endin's of words n' all? My preference is not to add the apostrophe, but to just let it stand: "What are you lookin at, shitbird?" Cause that's how Cormac McCarthy would write it.

But it's part of the William Morrow house style to add the apostrophe (lookin') and I didn't think it would compromise my artistic vision to add them in. I did resist the request to put foreign language talk into italics. I've never understood why ahora is better than ahora.
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Postby Betsy_Boo on Sat May 17, 2008 7:25 pm

BentheWriter wrote:Oh yeah, I googled it when you mentioned it, and spent a good twenty minutes laughing to myself. Funny stuff.

(By the way, I find it humorous that not only have I been arguing with someone online about APOSTROPHES, but other people have joined the debate. And people think readers are nerdlings. Pshhh.)


I guess it is kind of funny, but I am actually enjoying this. It is humorous and yet in my estimation, grammar is a topic worth talking about. I'm fascinated by the entire process of writing and actually find it bothersome that an author would have to change his style of writing to please someone else. On the other hand, if an author has a typo I definitely want an editor to catch it before it gets to me. I've read some advanced reader's copies that had some glaring errors that jerked me right out of the story. At any rate, I am learning alot just from this discussion.

Regarding Joe's mention that foreign language is often in italics...perhaps that so we morons don't assume it's an English word and run to look it up in an English dictionary?
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Postby BentheWriter on Sat May 17, 2008 8:51 pm

Thanks for the response, Joe. You're a cool dude.

I guess I didn't realize the publishers had so much to say on such matters...I have a lot to learn about the industry. I'll agree with you on the italics- it always seemed to throw off the cadence to me when people did that.

Betsy: I genuinely enjoy the discussion as well, and to tell the truth am quite starved for it. I know no writers personally, and quit college out of frustration, so I'm not around many like minded people.

I just like to take any chance I can to make fun of myself. When I get to expressing my opinions, I start to sound like an arrogant ass-bag, and making fun of myself helps.
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