Joe Hill's 'Horns': A Review
I must admit that I'd never heard of Hill until I came across 'Horns' in a $4 bargain bin. I saw the opportunity to explore some new writers without spending too much money. For some reason, this title, stood out and screamed "buy me!". While I didn't find the next masterpiece in horror literature, what I found was a story that was unlike any other that I'd read before. Generally, I can appreciate a different writing style, or an outlandish story concept. I can also appreciate a story that can keep my attention, whether they're gory, sappy or downright disturbing. However, every once in a while there is a novel that is so far out in left field that I'm not quite sure how I feel about it. 'Horns' is a perfect example of one such story.
Poor Ig Perrish. The lowly boy that was considered a little odd by everyone in town. Everyone, except, the young and free spirited Merrin Williams. When the two fell in love, they actually seemed to be the perfect couple. Until one night, Merrin's dead body is found by the old town foundry. Williams, the town sweetheart, is mourned by everyone. Even without a trial, the blame falls upon poor Ig. While there isn't enough physical evidence, Ig is a man shunned by the community. Forced to wear his scarlet letter, the best Ig can do is try to move on with whatever life he can forge for himself.
Now, almost a year later, the ever suspicious eyes of the town still glare in his direction. That is until he wakes up one morning with a whole new perspective on life. Ig wakes to a particularly severe hangover, and the blurred memory of a night where he did "terrible things", Ig finds that he has sprouted a horn out of each of his temples. Thinking that he might have some sort of disease, Ig decides to go get checked out. As he braves the idea of going out into the public, he is surprised that no one really seems to point out his anomaly. As Ig interacts with people, he realizes that he has an extraordinary power: everyone he meets can't help but be brutally honest with Ig regardless of whatever may be on their mind. Interestingly, those people have no recollection of seeing or even speaking to Ig. He'll also soon discover that by touching another person, he can see things about someone that they had hidden deep within. With these new abilities, Ig decides that perhaps he will be able to find out who is responsible for the death of his beloved Merrin. Will Ig be able to solve the mystery? Or will he be ever condemned to bear the cross for the murder? What kinds of secrets do his friends and family have kept hidden from him?
Let me start off by saying that I thought the concept behind 'Horns' was absolutely brilliant. It is by far one of the most interesting and original stories I've ever come across. Sadly, the story falls apart right from the get go. The story jumps often from past to present with no warning, which can be confusing. I'm not convinced that each flashback is beneficial to the story, and they are painfully out of sequence. At one point, Hill talks about Ig and Merrin finding a tree house in the beginning, and then at the end of the story, Ig flashes back to the tree house scene. It would seem to me that the two scenes should be closer together. On the plus side, some of the characters ARE well written and stand out. Ig is clearly the star, as he should be. As he grows into his new body and new abilities, you grow right along with him. What's interesting is no matter how he changes or how dark his thoughts or actions become, you always feel sympathetic toward him. You want him to succeed even though he has become the devil. Lee, the novel's antagonist, is also a standout for me. His sociopath tendencies are intriguing, and Hill pulls no punches when he lets the reader get inside Lee's head. One last thing that Hill deserves recognition for, is his element of surprise. Some of the revelations at the end were secrets that I never saw coming. For me, the moral of the story is that secrets are kept for a reason. Although, I really couldn't help but wonder what I would have done if I were in that situation. Do I really want to know a stranger's deepest darkest secrets? Or would I want to know if my family secretly resented me? I'm only awarding the novel two stars. Even though it shined with originality, and is quite thought evoking, it is weighed down by it's flaws. The story's lack of organization, and the fact the writing is pretty sub standard really prevents the novel's horns from growing into little more than nubs. The story would have fared better if Hill had been more organized. A clearer sequence of events would have improved my opinion of the story greatly.
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