Horns, by Joe Hill
Posted January 13, 2011on:
If you like contemporary horror/suspense, you’ll probably enjoy Joe Hill’s Horns. The prose is smooth, the characters are interesting (if a little stereotypical), and that secondary reveal will just kick you in the head.
Ig really misses his girlfriend Merrin. High school sweethearts, he was a better person when he was with her. It’s been about a year since he lost her. About a year since they had a heated, drunken argument, and he left her, crying, in the parking lot outside the neighborhood bar. The next day her broken and mutilated body was found in the woods. A year later Ig is still a person of interest, and he tells himself that people believe him when he says he loved Merrin and would never do anything to hurt her.
And then he wakes up with horns. Little devil horns that encourage people to tell Ig their deepest darkest secrets, things they want to do, things they wish they did. Random people tell him they have been cheating, have been lying. His parents tell him he should kill himself. The local priest happily admits to indiscretions. After reading Horns, you’ll never again wish you had the power to read people’s minds.
The first hundred pages or so of Horns was the best part for me. Ig tries to figure out who can see his horns and who can’t, why people are telling him strange things. I expect many readers will get out kick out of some of these conversations. I know I did. He is the son of and brother to a trumpet players, and there is a few plays on words regarding How to Play Horns. I was suddenly interested to see how far Joe Hill was going to push this. Ig has become some kind of demon creature, he can influence people to say and do things they would never do. Imagine the possibilities!!
With flashbacks from multiple points of view, we learn how Merrin and Ig meet one summer in church, and how Ig and his fairweather friend Lee fought for her attentions. The vast majority of Horns is these flashbacks, leading up to that fateful night that Ig still hasn’t escaped. So many secrets led up to that night, and the most important one is the one that would kill Merrin, one way or another. The end of the novel wasn’t that surprising for me, but Merrin’s final secret, it’ll rip your heart out.
I was so excited to see how far Hill was going to push the “play the horns” bit, that had I realized the rest of the book was going to be flashbacks, misinterpreted flirtations, awkward high school romances and stereotypical bullies, I probably wouldn’t have continued reading. You see, I’ve been so spoiled by fantastical horror (Jeff Vandermeer and China Mieville, I’m looking at you), that Horns just didn’t do it for me. Joe Hill gave himself this incredible opportunity with Ig’s horns, and for me, he didn’t take it far enough.
Don’t let my ambivalence towards Horns keep you from giving it a try. There is nothing wrong with this book. Hill is a fine writer, he knows how to build suspense and screw with your head. This just wasn’t the book for me.