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Posted by Dan Smyth On Friday, October 15, 2010

You know that kid that you grew up with? The one that dressed like he lived in an abandoned trailer park, who was always talking about death and fire and explosions? He’d creep out your parents, and always get away with the worst things, and the girls you wanted all seemed to go ga-ga every time he walked by?

Well this story is not about that guy.

But he's in it. And what with this being a horror novel and all, you KNOW that can't be good for him.

HORNS is Joe Hill’s second novel. I read his first one, HEART-SHAPED BOX, mostly because his dad looked familiar and afterward thought, Hey, this one’s probably worth a shot. It most certainly was.

This time around, Joe’s changed gears on us, completely, and not just by writing a different kind of book. In HORNS, instead of having the psycho devil-man play the bad guy, he’s made him the protagonist. Seriously? Is there any way that I might like this guy? To a certain extent it worked like crackerjacks, and regardless of how everything came out in the end, I'm giving him props for taking such a big risk. High five, Joe!

Ignatius Martin Perrish, affectionately known as Ig to his family and friends, wakes up one morning with a huge hangover, having some vague sense that he has spent the previous night drunk off his rocker and doing horrible, horrible things. He walks into the bathroom, scrubs his face, and notices the pair of sharp red horns sticking up from top of his head.

Well those weren’t there yesterday...

For the next fifty pages or so we get a good idea of just what these things do for Iggy. For one, they make everyone he talks to go glassy-eyed and pretty much forget he’s ever been around. Second, they make them all spill their guts about what they want, what they think, and pretty much brings out the worst of what they’re capable of. They’re also all sorts of impressionable and for the most part willing to do exactly what Iggy tells them to. This makes for some absolutely hilarious scenes as well has some horribly creepy ones.

Then he runs into someone that blithely tells him exactly what he's wanted to know for the last year, and suddenly the story pulls a one-eighty. Because, you see, Iggy’s girlfriend got killed last year, and everyone (yes, everyone, even his own family for crying out loud) thinks he was the one that did it. Since then, his life has gone straight down the crapper, and no matter what he does it's all he can think about each and every day.

But now things are different.

And it’s time for a little payback.

The single idea behind this novel, I thought, was really great. Essentially, give a brow-beaten, down-on-life, shot-to-Hades nobody the power of the devil and see what he does with it. The problem is that the main story line develops so fast that in order to keep the book from being finished in fewer than a hundred pages, Mr. Hill has to pull the e-brake on things and give us the back story.

I actually quite liked the deviation though. We get to see Mr. Perrish as a kid, his older brother Terry, Iggy’s friends--Merrin Williams and Lee Tourneau--and a bit from a girl that both Iggy and Lee have liked at various times, Glenna Nicholson. Not to mention the pack of typical local hoodlums, which you can all remember quite well from the good-old days of grade school. The way it all plays out is picture perfect to the one I have in my head of those years. The author does a great job of characterization here for all the main players. There’s also a good sense of progression, as he always gives us something to look forward to: meeting Merrin for the first time at church, riding a shopping cart down a massive hill, setting off the last cherry bomb of the summer...ah, the good life. Piece by piece, the author leads us along and makes us like Iggy Perrish more and more.

Stacking up that Sympathy for the Devil.

There were a number breaking points for me though. The first would be having the same stuff being explained a number of times. There’s one whole section that could easily have been cut and I doubt I would have noticed in the slightest. It did nothing for the story. Nothing. There was also a scene in the middle of the book that makes absolutely no sense. Preaching to snakes? Yeah, whatever. Then, we have the details. Don't get me wrong, there are lots of them here and like every good story they all attempt to tie everything together into one, big, cohesive whole. The problem is that most of them have little impact other than eliciting an, “Oh, so that’s how that worked,” moment for the reader. Last, reading this book has made me want to find a novel that does memory loss well. Having critical details just show up at the climax pretty much annoys the Hell out of me (going with the theme here, people).

In the end, lots o’ good, lots o’ meh; enough of the latter unfortunate to garner a mediocre vote this time through, but I'll probably still give him another go next time around. Before I sign off though, a note. We had a few observations from readers a while ago that there were sooooooo many books in the Books We Like category and "Where should one start when tackling such a list?". I think you'll find that, as opposed to the others here, most of my reviews fall into the Books That Are Mediocre category. Know though that this book, although garnering a mediocre rating, is one of the much better ones on the pile. Yes, this is a mediocre book, but it is one that I think is well worth reading for those aficionados of horror.

In the end, if you’re looking for a story that’s enough like Stephen King to be good, but enough different from him to make a difference, pick something up from Joe Hill.

BookInTenWords: When you're the devil, life gets simpler. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Recommended age: 18+, as for content, it has everything his father would have included.
Language: Loads.
Violence: Yeah, things gets pretty dicey at points.
Sex: Two scenes with a low-level of detail (one violent in nature), and pervasive references throughout.

Joe Hill's Website


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