CONNIE CHASTAIN REVIEWS: HEART SHAPED BOX
So I log onto Twitter this morning and the first thing I see is a Tweet by Joe Hill, a writer who is the son of Stephen King. I've read enough Stephen King to know he trashes Southerners in his stories. I read, or tried to read, a novel by Joe Hill a few years back, and he is a Southern-trasher, too. Here's my review of his book, The Heart-Shaped Box...
I've reached the halfway point of Hill's novel and very likely I won't finish it. Reasons: the characters, the writing, and one personal reason. The characters. They are almost impossible to care about. The garrulous personal assistant, the groupie girlfriends -- one-dimensional with no admirable or endearing characteristics. The aging rock-star protagonist was the same -- on steroids. He drifts through his life, and through the story, with little purpose, bumping into plot points and bouncing around like a pinball. What motivates him is anybody's guess. The writing. The story is way too long and the rambling, repetitious prose (in stark contrast to Coben's lean, spare prose in Six Years). A lot could be cut and the story could still be told. Repetition of info already relayed is annoying. I don't know if deep POV and show, don't tell were in vogue in 2000 or whenever Hill wrote the novel, but the narrative is long on telling, with some passages thrown in that may be the author's attempt at deep POV -- his occupation with listing every odor the protag's olfactories detect (usually, urine is one of them) is more annoying than informative. Waiting for pages and pages to tell the reader that the protag's dogs, Angus and Bon, are German Shepherds, the very un-scary manifestations of the ghost are clear flaws. The lack of delineation between the story progression and supernatural or mental experiences is confusing. My personal reasons. As a Southerner, I despise the fictional portrayals of the good people of my region with unflattering stereotypes, and I am completely turned off by the multitudes of writers (including Southern ones) who seem to feel an obligation to trash the South with their pens. Hill goes way beyond non-flattering, portraying Southerners as vile, odious, larger-than-life freaks. Every single character except Wooten is a hideous Southerner -- Coyne, his parents, the groupies, their families, even the ghost. Writing the obligatory ugly Southern stereotype frequently includes contorting religion to a point beyond recognition, and Hill throws that in, too. Vulgar, rancid portrayals of my region and its people like those New Englander Hill concocts in this story are a huge part of my motivation for writing, and portraying Southerners as ordinary, decent human beings with realistic flaws.