I was excited to find a copy of Horns at my local Big Lots (a store that sells odd lots and overstock from other stores). I read Hill's fist novel, Heart Shaped Box, and thought it was a pretty good effort for a first novel. I will admit to being predisposed to like it-Joe Hill is the pseudonym used by one of the sons of my favorite horror writer Stephen King, after all. But still, I thought it showed promise.
Horns, while far from being perfect, definitely shows Hill's development as a writer. The novel tells the story of Ig Perrish, a young man who had everything going for him, until the night that his girlfriend Merrin, the only woman he's ever loved, is brutally murdered. Suspicion immediately falls on him, but with no evidence he is eventually released. But in his small town, everyone assumes he did it, and his life becomes an endless series of accusatory glances and awkward interactions. One night, around the anniversary of Merrin's death, he got raging drunk and blacked out. When he awoke, he had more than just the worst hangover of his life-he had grown a pair of horns. People suddenly start confessing their deepest, darkest desires to him, and he discovers that he can nudge people into acting on those desires in a way they would never have dreamed. One of those people is his brother, Terry, who confesses something that starts a chain reaction of revenge that almost destroys Ig and everyone he cares about.
I thought that Horns felt more mature than Heart Shaped Box. There was no real explanation of where the horns came from, but like his father he wrote a story that hooked me enough that I didn't really care. I thought that sometimes he was a little too on-the-nose in his devil references...Ig's name being so close to the word for a church community, the blue skirt he ends up in later in the book (Devil in a Blue Dress)...I felt like these little flourishes weren't really necessary. But Ig himself is pretty well written, and Hill did a good job making you feel what he was feeling when all of these things started happening to him. And the premise itself is interesting. What would it be like to hear everyone's most base desires, or to touch them and see all of the bad things they've ever done? Frankly, if that's the Devil's job description, he really is living in Hell.
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