They say not to judge a book by it’s cover and I’ve never had that old adage illustrated more poignantly for me than with Horns: A Novel by Joe Hill. It wasn’t the cover art that deterred me, it wasn’t the color scheme or page count, no. It was the name under the title. An author that I had formed opinions about based on his previous book and nothing more. I guess the adage needs to be amended in this case: Don’t judge an author by his first book. A week ago, I was most definitely not a fan of Joe Hill, based strictly on that one book I’d read. I wasn’t and still am not a big fan of Heart Shaped Box, a book of his that did absolutely nothing for me, and if not for the gold star given to Horns by a trusted friend (thanks Randy!), I wouldn’t have bothered picking it up. That’s not to say that I don’t recognize the merits of Heart Shaped Box, I realize some people enjoyed it immensely and that it was an inventive story, I just wasn’t looking forward to picking up another Joe Hill book.
I’m so glad I did though! I fucking loved Horns. I can’t even talk about it without using an expletive because it was fanfuckingtastic! (For the record, I realize that LOTS of people may not agree with me here and that my taste in fiction has been questioned a few times, so. Consider this my disclaimer. I loved it. You might not. Isn’t that fun?! Differences, yay!)
There are few things in this world that intrigue me more than a good old fashioned love story driven by blood and guts and revenge. Horns is, without a doubt, a fabulous representation of this.
We meet Ignatius Perrish, a man of twenty six who lost the love his life, Merrin, a year before. Unfortunately, everybody in town thinks Ig is the one who raped and murdered her, but of course the evidence that would have convicted him was conveniently (or was it unfortunately?) lost in a forensics lab fire. But it doesn’t matter. As far as the town of Gideon is concerned, Ig’s a murderer and his rich musician father got him off the hook.
Thing is, he didn’t do it.
That’s where we meet our hero. It’s the anniversary of his beloved’s death, so Ig gets shit-faced and drives out to the scene of the murder and… well, the memories are all foggy after that. The next morning, Ig’s suffering from a wicked hangover and something even more disturbing: a pair of horns sprouting from his forehead. Logically, he assumes they’re a hallucination caused by a brain tumor. That theory turns to shit when he realizes that he’s not the only one who can see them.
So what happened? Did he make a deal with the devil? Can God help him now? He doesn’t know. What he DOES know is that these horns have some kind of power over people. It turns poor Ig into their own personal demon, the one they can spill all of their terrible secrets too, the one who can influence them to act on their darkest ambitions…
Unsurprisingly, this gift brings forth Merrin’s true murderer and while Ig learns to harness his horns, we’re drawn into the story. The plot has a few twists and turns that are easy enough to predict and others that are fantastically strange. Ig’s fate and brand of revenge weren’t exactly what I was expecting, maybe even strangely anticlimactic, but it was fitting. His ultimate fate was especially fuzzy to me and the theological debate that this book can spark is fantastic because of it.
Like I said before: this book will not be for everybody. People who are extra touchy on the subject of Heaven and Hell probably won’t appreciate it. People who are stringent atheists might not care for it either, in fact. If you fall somewhere in between the two categories (with a sense of humor, gasp!) and enjoy somewhat bloody, sometimes adolescent angst and some serious revenge mongering, well! Go for it. You will not be disappointed. (At least I hope not!)
Happy reading, booklings!
Image: William Morrow Paperbacks