The pace of Heart-Shaped Box is relentless. Jude is an aging rock star living a quiet life with his much younger significant other, Georgia. Jude buys a ghost online, is promptly haunted, and begins fighting for his life; go figure… The tension runs extremely high, and pages go by really fast; too fast for my liking. We are so caught up in the cinematic suspense of Jude and Georgia's encounters with the ghost, Craddock, that Hill has completely forgot to make me care about their fate.
The first third of the book does nothing to establish character. Jude doesn't feel grounded. He is more or less a prop for Hill to display his ability in creating some truly creeping moments of insubstantial fluff. Not to mention the length at which chase and near suicide scenes goes on. It was a fun gimmick once, and Hill does it extremely well, but his nuance became a nuisance. While I was never desensitized to the intensity of these repetitious moments, if the action had been intermittently broken up and if I were given a chance to find something substantial called a story (beyond what I've already mentioned) I think the affect of these scenes would have been even stronger.
Luckily, (at least in this case) I'm stubborn and I didn't put the book down. Eventually we get backstory and exposition and while those aren't things I generally crave in a novel, Hill presents a good example of what happens when they aren't present. His writing is clean and anything but confusing, but there was no gravitas to any of the action; it all felt superficial and surface level at best. It was only after identities were established, motives hinted at, and events beyond, "Run! Run for your life!" were described that the story started to have some presence.
To make a musical analogy (music being another quasi-repetitious element in the book) I felt the novel happened in sonata allegro form (a structure that can certainly be linked to literature and drama) where the development came before the exposition. While what was being developed was amazing, I was unaware as the material had never been presented in it's basic form. (And with that, I win the battle for most pretentious and esoteric literary review analogy!)
We learn of Jude's past and a previous girlfriend with some disturbing family problems and a connection to the ghost that wants him dead. Hill does a great job of keeping you guessing if Jude is the bad guy and the Craddock the avenging angel--or vica versa--right up until the end. Ultimately the novel works, but felt to me as if the author were trying too hard. There's action aplenty and it will only take a few days to read as the pace is supercharged. It's not for the weak of heart and certainly has to power to disturb a good night's sleep. Heart-Shaped Box is fun, however no where near as convincing as his short story writing.