Heart-Shaped Box Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 91 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Heart-Shaped Box.
This section contains 2,136 words
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Heart-Shaped Box Summary & Study Guide Description

Heart-Shaped Box Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill.

Heart-Shaped Box is the debut novel by Joe Hill. In the novel, 54-year-old heavy metal music legend Judas Coyne buys a ghost (and the suit it supposedly inhabits) online as an addition to his collection of macabre items. After the suit and the ghost are delivered, Jude learns that it is the spirit of Craddock McDermott, the stepfather of one of Jude’s ex-girlfriends named Anna McDermott, who supposedly committed suicide shortly after Jude broke up with her. Craddock has sworn to kill Jude and anyone who helps him; he makes Jude’s personal assistant hang himself, and is almost able to make Jude kill his live-in girlfriend Georgia and then himself. They are able to contact the spirit of Jude’s ex-girlfriend Anna who eventually helps them to destroy Craddock, but not before Jude and Georgia learn how much they love and need each other.

One day Judas Coyne’s personal assistant Danny stops him as he is walking past his office in Jude’s large farmhouse in New York. He asks Jude if he wants to buy a ghost on the Internet. Jude, who has been a superstar in the heavy metal rock and roll world for over three decades and has been in semi-retirement for the last few years, has a large collection of macabre items and has Danny buy the ghost – and the old-fashioned suit that it supposedly inhabits – on the spot. The suit is delivered a few days later and Jude’s 23-year-old live-in girlfriend Georgia removes it from the black heart-shape box it arrives in. She is immediately pricked in the thumb by what she thinks is a pin in the fabric, although Jude can find no pins when he searches the suit.

Jude is awakened by a noise at 3:00 the next morning and finds the ghost of an old man sitting in the hallway outside his bedroom, wearing the suit. When Danny arrives at his office Jude has him find out who sold him the ghost on the Internet and get her on the telephone. The woman is named Jessica Price and she tells Jude that the ghost is the spirit of her stepfather Craddock McDermott, who had also been the stepfather of Jude’s previous girlfriend Anna McDermott. Jessica says that Anna killed herself after Jude threw her out and that she (Jessica) had tricked Jude into buying her stepfather Craddock’s ghost on the Internet. Before he died Craddock - who had been a hypnotist and spiritualist - swore to kill Jude and anyone who helped him, and now that Jude has bought and paid for the ghost and the suit they are his forever.

Later that day Georgia tells Jude that he needs to get rid of the suit because it stinks. As they are walking to their bedroom Jude sees the dead man in the hallway again, although Georgia doesn’t see him. Jude finds the reeking suit laid out on the bed next to where Georgia had been sleeping, even though neither of them had taken it out of the heart-shaped box. When Jude goes through the pockets to see if something has crawled in and died, he finds a picture of himself and Anna that hadn’t been there before. He tells Georgia about the ghost and his conversation with Jessica Price, then sees that Georgia’s thumb looks to be seriously infected and says he will have Danny make a doctor’s appointment for her.

Danny is not in his office when Jude reaches it, but he finds a frightening email that appears to have been written to him by the dead man on Danny’s computer. He then sees Danny sitting in his car in the driveway looking dazed, and when Jude goes to him Danny says that he saw the ghost and that he won’t be coming back. Jude plays with his German shepherds Bon and Angus for a while after Danny leaves, then goes into the barn/garage. He sits in the 1965 Mustang he‘d restored while Anna lived with him and turns on the radio. As he drifts off to sleep he sees Craddock’s ghost sitting next to him smiling, and a short time later Georgia pulls him out of the car and tells him that she thought he was dead; he’d fallen asleep with the car running and the barn door closed. Jude has no memory of starting the Mustang, and realizes that Craddock’s ghost had almost made him kill himself without realizing he was doing it. As Jude is recovering Georgia burns the suit thinking it will get rid of the ghost, although Jude believes that Craddock makes her burn it so that he could not sell it – and Craddock’s ghost – to someone else.

Jude awakens just after 3:00 the next morning, realizes that Georgia is not in bed, and sees a blue Chevy pickup that he is certain belongs to the dead man idling in his driveway. The telephone rings and when he answers it Danny tells him that he is dead; Danny says that the ghost made him hang himself, and that he will do the same to Jude because it is impossible not to listen to the ghost’s voice. After he hangs up Jude looks for Georgia and finds her in his studio. Georgia is holding a gun and seems to be in a trance. Jude takes the gun from her and throws it across the room, but Craddock’s ghost speaks to him softly from inside his head and forces him to walk to where the gun landed. Craddock tells Jude to pick the gun up, shoot Georgia, and then shoot himself. As he bends to pick the gun up Jude hears his dogs Bon and Angus barking in their pen outside, and the sound breaks Craddock’s spell over him. He runs outside to the dogs’ pen and opens it just as Craddock catches up to him; as soon as they are free Angus and Bon – and a pair of ghostly ‘shadow-dogs’ that appear to be attached to them – attack Craddock. The shadow-dogs are able to hurt Craddock and eventually the dead man drives away in the blue pickup, and Jude realizes that Angus and Bon can help protect him and Georgia from the ghost. Jude packs the Mustang and a few hours later he, Georgia, and the dogs leave the farmhouse and head south towards Jessica Price’s house in Florida.

Jude spots the blue pickup following them near dusk. He stops at a motel outside Fredericksburg, Virginia. When he awakens the next morning there is a tune running through Jude’s head and he spends an hour writing a song in the bathroom so as not to wake Georgia. Jude and Georgia walk across the motel parking lot a short time later and have breakfast at a Denny’s restaurant. After the waitress pours hot coffee on Georgia’s hand – which is bandaged because of the infection in her thumb – she heads to the ladies room. Jude sees the blue pickup idling in the parking lot and rushes to the ladies room where he sees Georgia smash a mirror with her fist, then try to cut her throat with a shard of the glass. Jude rushes her out of the Denny’s and as they make their way back to the motel Jude sees Craddock’s pickup coming toward them. He pulls Georgia out of the way just as it crashes into a wall beside them. When looks back, Jude sees that the pickup has been replaced with a Jeep and that a dazed looking stranger is sitting behind the wheel.

Later that afternoon they stop at the home of Georgia’s grandmother. While they are there Georgia finds an Ouija board and she and Jude are able to contact the spirit of Jude’s ex-girlfriend, Anna McDermott. Anna says that she will try and help them stop Craddock, and Georgia promises that she will bring Anna through the Golden Door into the world of the living if she can. They leave the house after dinner and as they are driving Jude remembers letters Anna wrote to him after she’d left, and things she’d said via the Ouija board, and realizes that Anna didn’t kill herself as everyone believed but had actually been murdered by Craddock McDermott.

They reach Jessica Price’s house in the early hours of the morning and confront Jessica in her kitchen after her 12-year-old daughter Reese leaves for school. Jessica refuses to help them get rid of Craddock’s ghost and as they are talking and fighting with her it becomes clear that she and Anna had both had sex with Craddock starting when they were children – Jessica willingly and Anna while under hypnosis – and that prior to his death Jessica had allowed Craddock to have sex with her own daughter, Reese. Reese returns home unexpectedly and comes into the kitchen with a gun. She shoots and kills Bon, then fires again accidentally and takes Jude’s index finger off. As Georgia (who Jude calls Marybeth – her real name – for the rest of the novel) gets Jude and Angus back to the car, Jessica slams into the Mustang with her car and crushes Angus’ back legs. The car still runs, and Jude tells Marybeth that they are going to his father’s house in Louisiana. As Marybeth drives Jude has a vision of the last day Anna was alive and sees that Craddock murdered her after she threatened to expose what he had been doing to Reese.

They reach Jude’s father’s hog farm in Louisiana a few hours later and discover that Angus died of his injuries while they’d been driving. Jude has not been home in over thirty years, but he has never forgotten how his father Martin abused him and his mother when he’d been a child. Martin is now dying and rarely conscious and is being cared for Jude’s aunt, Arlene Wade, a registered nurse. Jude is weak from the loss of blood, and the infection in Marybeth’s thumb has somehow spread to both of her hands. Arlene sends Marybeth to rest in her room and takes Jude into the room where she is nursing his father and stitches up his wounded finger. Arlene leaves the house after Craddock shows her a news report on TV in which she is being wheeled out of the house on a coroner’s stretcher, and a short time later Craddock appears in the room with Jude and his comatose father. Craddock tries to get Jude to kill Marybeth, but Jude is able to keep the dead man’s voice out of his head by humming the tune he’d written in the motel. Craddock then possesses his father Martin’s body and uses him to attack Jude with a straight razor.

Jude escapes into the kitchen where Marybeth is able to kill Martin, but not before he cuts her throat severely. Marybeth tells Jude to make the Golden Door and Jude draws a doorway in Marybeth’s blood on the kitchen floor. After Marybeth climbs onto it the Golden Door opens and Anna comes up through a blindingly bright light and enters Marybeth’s body. Together, Marybeth and Anna’s spirit get hold of Craddock – who has left Martin’s dead body – and pull him down through the Golden Door, which destroys him. Realizing that Marybeth wasn’t dead when he’d last looked at her and finally understanding how much he loves and needs her, Jude goes through the Golden Door after her. He finds himself in his Mustang with both Anna and Marybeth driving on the “night road” in the world of the dead, and Jude manages to pull Marybeth back into the world of the living. When Jude comes to Arlene Wade has returned and he and Marybeth are taken to the hospital, where they both make a full recovery.

Marybeth and Jude are married a year later and live a relatively quiet life at the farmhouse in New York. Shortly after their fifth anniversary Reese Price comes by the house. Now 18, Reese apologizes for shooting Jude, and says that her mother was sent to prison after police found pornographic pictures of Reese and her stepfather in the house on the day Jude and Marybeth had been there. She says that she sometimes dreams she is riding in a black car with her Aunt Anna, and Anna tells her that Jude had just been trying to help her that day. She then says that Anna is finally happy for the first time in her life and that she hopes Jude is happy, too.

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