After reading Joe Hill’s first novel Heart-Shaped Box, I knew he was a writer that I wanted to keep up with. I follow him on twitter and read that he’s finishing up his next novel, but in the meantime, I was lucky enough to come across his only other novel Horns at Barnes & Noble a few weeks back in the discount section for six or seven bucks. Since I’m a fan and love a good deal, it was an easy sale.
The simple concept behind the book is that suspected “sex murderer” Ig Perrish wakes up after a bender with devil horns growing out his head and a strange effect on people. When he’s in their presence, they confess some of their deepest, darkest thoughts. After visiting some folks, Ig starts to discover the truth about what actually happened to his dead girlfriend Merrin. From there we bounce around in time a bit as Hill gives us flashbacks that not only broaden the world, but give us both story and character details that help move things along at a good clip.
And that’s really where the genius of Joe Hill lies, he layered this story so well that you almost smack yourself in the forehead for not realizing that something from earlier on fits in with the ongoing story. For instance, and this is a small one, but Ig drives a Gremlin. You find this out early on and I didn’t think much of it because it’s a shit car and he lives in a smaller town, so that washes. It was about half way through his devil-ish adventures that I made the thematic connection. The key, though, is that it didn’t feel corny or cheesy, it was more like, “Well played, Mr. Hill, well played.” Or, maybe I’m just a bit slow, which is entirely possible.
Another great thing about Hill is that he really doesn’t go where you think he will. Or at least not when you think he will. At a certain point I figured Ig’s newfound abilities would be perfect for finding out what happened to Merrin. And he does, but I didn’t expect him to jump right in so quickly. Heck, I also didn’t expect him to go talk to his parents and hear what they had to really think about him. Woof.
Honestly, there isn’t anything in this book I didn’t like. It had the very special benefit of fitting very easily in with my memories from childhood. Ig first saw Merrin at church, her sitting across from him and him falling for her. I remember seeing a girl in that exact scenario and having a crush when I was a kid. Also, large portions of the story take place in a woodsy area around a burnt-out foundry. Now, I didn’t grow up near a foundry or even as woodsy of an area as this, but I did spend hours running around the small woods in the park across the street from my house unsupervised. We didn’t get up to too much trouble, but I feel that kind of exploratory freedom is not only very much a part of my building blocks, but also something that a younger generation might not be able to relate to which is a bummer.
Anyway, between everything I’ve already mentioned, a fantastically complex morality tale and a villain that makes Dexter look saintly, I had a fantastic time reading this book and going along for the ride. I highly recommend this for anyone who likes fantastical fiction with a foul-mouthed flair and a non-traditional take on the relationship between the devil, God and people.