By JOE HILL
(William Morrow; 2010)
Here it is, the long-anticipated second novel by Joe Hill,
following 2007ís unaccountably well received HEART-SHAPED BOX. I
was admittedly never too impressed by that novel, which despite
a riveting premise ran out of steam quickly. It seemed to me
that Hill, a prolific
short story writer, had trouble
sustaining interest over the course of three-hundred odd pages.
HORNS, it turns out, is far better overall than its
predecessor, fulfilling many things the previous book promised
but didnít deliver. I doubt it will be as successful, though, as
HEART-SHAPED BOX was straightforward and easy-to-digest whereas
HORNS is thorny and complex; itís a surreal horror tale first
and foremost, but can also be taken as a supernatural love story
and/or sophisticated theological inquest.
The premise is simple enough: a young man named Ignatius
Perrish, or Ig, wakes up one morning after a night of apparently
satanic behavior (we donít learn what he actually did until near
the end) to find two sharp horns sprouting from his temple. Over
the course of the following day Ig discovers the horns have a
number of disquieting supernatural properties, among them the
power to make those around him reveal their innermost secrets.
Lengthy (perhaps a bit too lengthy) flashbacks fill us in
on Igís sordid history in the sleepy Northeastern town where he
lives. His girlfriend Merrin, with whom he had a decidedly
complicated relationship, was raped and murdered a year prior to
the horn-sprouting. Ig remains the sole suspect, but the true
culprit is Lee, a childhood friend whose troublemaking ways
conceal untold depths of psychosis.
Ig himself is hardly an angel, as the horns jutting from
his head attest, and decides to use his newfound infernal powers
to avenge himself on Lee. This is easier said than done, as Lee
proves a far tougher foe than anticipated, and the supernatural
properties of Igís horns turn out to be somewhat variable
(meaning they donít always work). A further complication is
added by the presence of Igís brother, who grew up alongside Ig
and has his own relationship with Lee.
The climax, which as you might expect is plenty bloody,
could frankly be a little stronger. For that matter the novel
overall could be safely shorn of 50 (or more) of its nearly 400
pages. But it contains a protagonist as interesting and
multi-faceted as nearly any youíre likely to encounter, and a
narrative thatís crazed, prickly and truthful, often to a
discomforting degree. HORNS isnít exactly an entertaining read,
but itís definitely an invigorating one.