Joe Hill Horns or why I am excited to read again

Once upon a time I was a huge Stephen King fan. I was that person who was first at the book store whenever King released a book. I was that fan who could would go on and on about his writing and his stories.

It all started when I was 16 or 17, I really do not remember the year. What I do remember is that one day I woke up not feeling well enough to go to school but not bad enough to sleep all day. What I needed was a book to take my mind off my ills. I did not grow up in a house full of books, though we did have two or three shelves housing my mother’s latest Double Day selections. It was from this small collection where I could choose a book. My mother had two titles that looked interesting. One was titled Burnt Offerings, the other The Shining. I had not heard of either authors so I just grabbed the first one, knowing if I did not like it, I could try the other.

I sat on our couch all day reading The Shining. Once I picked it up I could not put it down. When mother came home from her daily round of outings she was amazed to see I was sitting in the same position I had been when she left. It had been six hours, and since I was almost done with the book I sat there to the very end. I had never read anything like King’s writing style and felt I truly found a genius. Other King books followed and for years he was one of my guilty pleasures. I even had a ritual attached to the day one of his books was released. On the day before I would make sure my laundry was caught up. The night before I would make dinner for two nights and straighten up my house. If one of his books came out on a day I worked, I took holiday leave; there was no way I would not be one, if not the first to get the title. By the time the extended edition of the Stand came out, the local indie bookstore knew to have the first book out of the box waiting for me. On the day of the arrival I would rush to the store as it opened and rush home with my treasure. I would spend the entire day reading. I read the extended version of The Stand in 9 hours. I think this is a personal best.

After Gerald’s game however, my feelings started to change. I could not put my finger on it, but something about his writing no longer held any fascination for me. I did not want to lose this special (if obsessive) connection I had with King, so I continued to read his writing. When Insomnia came out I felt we could repair our relationship. King wrote about an affliction I had suffered from since childhood. Sadly Insomnia only put me to sleep and I did not finish the book. This is when I knew our relationship was over: Long live the King, but to me the King was dead. Oh yes I did love The Green Mile, but this was one of the last of his books I picked up. The magic was gone. Oh I have tried to connect to other authors but as much as I might like them, they just didn’t do it for me the way King did; try as I might the relationship never lasted. Authors have come and gone from my life. None lasted more than a few books. I have some favorite authors but I call these my friends. They are nice to have around but do not thrill me nor do I miss them when they go a while in between releases.

A couple of years ago a friend recommended I try Joe Hill’s Heart Shape Box. Word was he is King’s son and his first novel was good. On a whim I picked it up to see what kind of writer King would inspire. If you have not read Heart Shape Box I highly recommended. The first part of the novel is slow, but after finishing the book I realize the first part is done as a slow build up to an amazing second act. Once I got to the second act I could not put it down. Here was a story teller that could both scare you and entertain. I was eager to read more, but unfortunately it has taken three years for his second books Horns to be released. When I heard it was coming out I checked to see if my local library was getting a copy. They are and I am first on the list at my to read it. I am just testing the waters at this point. I am not ready to commit to anything yet, though I hope they get it in soon. I would like to rekindle my love for a specific writer. It has been far too long. Hill’s writing style and supernatural flare may just be what I need.

I found this review yesterday at the L A Times website and want to share it with you dear Readers so that you too may end up looking forward to reading a Joe Hill novel and why I am excited to read it. I would love to know who it is you look forward. Do you buy a specific author’s work as soon as it comes out? Does hearing the author’s name send shivers down your spine? Or am I just nuts, and need to get a life?

Horns’ by Joe Hill

A New England man wakes to find he has devil horns on his forehead — and a knack for inspiring bad behavior in the people around him.

By Jedediah Berry

March 1, 2010

The first page of “Horns” sets up the novel so neatly that it’s almost a shame to recapitulate it here. But this much you need to know: Joe Hill’s new book is about a man named Ignatius Perrish (most of the time, he’s called Ig) who wakes up hung over and unable to remember the bad things he did the night before. Also, he now has a pair of horns growing out of his head.

What Ig learns quickly is that most people don’t notice the horns, or if they do, they tend to forget they saw them. What he learns more slowly is how to control and make use of the uncanny powers the horns bestow upon him.

As in Hill’s first novel, 2007’s “Heart-Shaped Box,” the strands of the supernatural are woven tightly with the psychological, lending his work a dreamlike resonance. It’s this quality that puts Hill in league with our finest fantasists (and distinguishes his style from that of his father, Stephen King).

In “Horns,” we find a likable and well-meaning protagonist in Ig, whose life in his small New Hampshire town — a life once cushioned by his family’s wealth and status — has been shattered by the rape and murder of his girlfriend Merrin.

Ig was never tried for the crime, but he’s always been the primary suspect, and just about everyone in town thinks he’s guilty. He’s nearly friendless and mostly alone, he drinks too much, and the local cops love to hound him.

When the horns of the title appear, they seem at first like the physical mark of Ig’s new state: the stigma of the fallen. But the horns don’t just make Ig look like the devil. When people see him, they compulsively disclose their darkest and most vile desires — then ask him for permission to act on them. If he gives his approval, they carry out the deeds.

These are just some of Ig’s new infernal faculties, but one of the pleasures of reading “Horns” is watching him learn what they are and how to use them.

The book provides some of the same thrills we’ve come to expect from comics and films that return to the origin story of a perhaps too-familiar superhero. But in “Horns,” we watch a devil learn how to be one.

And Ig, it turns out, has a pretty tough time of it. He’s nearly incapacitated to learn the truth of what his father, his mother, even his grandmother think of him. Their confessions — along with those of his doctor, his priest and everyone else he encounters — are rife with hate, perversion or both, sometimes hilarious but usually unsettling. It’s as though Ig were stuck watching a Shakespearean drama in which all the asides and soliloquies betray the rottenness and hypocrisy in everything.

The real horror, Hill seems to suggest, is in the unadorned truth that usually goes unspoken. And although a devil’s-eye view onto the world shows Ig the world at its worst, it also gives him the opportunity to peer more deeply into the mystery of Merrin’s death.

When considered as a supernatural thriller, “Horns” is thoroughly enjoyable and often original. But Hill uses Ig’s new perspective as a pretext to abandon swift plotting in favor of some lengthy back story. We see Ig and his older brother as bored kids pulling dangerous stunts over one summer; we see the formation of Ig’s earliest friendships; we see his first meeting with Merrin and the blossoming of their romance.

It’s a risky move, to stray so far from the weird and compelling matter of the horns on Ig’s head, but the gamble pays off. Here is a richly nuanced story that traces the catastrophes of adult lives gone wrong to the complex and fraught relationships of children.

Ig’s metamorphosis, meanwhile, is portrayed with sparkling good humor. Every dusty old joke and aphorism with the devil bearing the brunt is dragged into the mix. There’s sympathy for him, he wears a blue dress, he’s out to get his due. There are pitchforks — more than one of them — showing up at key moments in the story. All of which would be unbearable if it weren’t handled with such campy glee, and with such respect for the tradition of Satan as anti-hero, tale-teller and trickster.

The fact that the nature of the protagonist’s deal with the devil is a mystery even to him makes for a refreshing take on the morality fables that usually feature Old Scratch and his ilk. Fire and brimstone have rarely looked this good.

Author: sarij

I'm a writer, lifelong bibliophile ,and researcher. I hold a Bachelors in Humanities & History and a Master's in Humanities. When I'm not reading or talking about Shakespeare or history, you can usually find me in the garden discussing science or politics with my cat.

8 thoughts on “Joe Hill Horns or why I am excited to read again”

  1. Annette, the more I read about the book the more I am tempted to go out and get it. But as part of my resolution i will not.Diane, so glad to hear you are a fellow fan. Have you read his short story collection? I have not yet, but I should look for it.

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  2. I just finished reading an article in the weekend paper about Joe Hill, apparently he wisely decided not to capitilise on his famous parentage and has the rejection letters to prove it. This new title does sound really good and is now one I have added to the never ending to read list.

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  3. Amanda, I hope you enjoy HSB as much as I did. The second half of the books is the best. Sharon, have you read anything by Hill? Annette, you have to try 20th Century Ghosts. I know you will love it.

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