Note: I read Horns, by Joe Hill quite a while ago (about two, maybe two and a half years ago), but I just got around to checking in on my blog, and was surprised by the number of “Draft” entries, and even more surprised by the number of drafts that were completely blank, except for their title. Horns was one of them. I actually just got around to watching the movie pretty recently, which, in addition to finding this unfinished post, inspired me to read through the book all over again.
So, Horns is the story of Ignatius Perrish (Ig for short). I feel like the best way to introduce you to both Ig, as well as the book, is to let you read the first chapter right here.
Ignatius Martin Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke the next morning with a headache, put his hands to his temples, and felt something unfamiliar, a pair of knobby pointed protuberances. He was so ill–wet-eyed and weak –he didn’t think anything of it at first, was too hungover for thinking or worry.
But when he was swaying above the toilet, he glanced at himself in the mirror over the sink and saw he had grown horns while he slept. He lurched in surprise, and for the second time in twelve hours he pissed on his feet.
-Horns: A Novel, by Joe Hill
I feel like this is a pretty good start to the book. I’m not usually a fan of extremely short chapters, and so when I first read this, it was a bit of a turnoff for me. But you turn the page, and see that the next chapter isn’t so short, which I was happy to see. This gives you a hint that while Ignatius has the name of some Gregorian Monk, that’s not the lifestyle he lives at all.
I also think it’s a good representative sample of the writing . The style changes significantly after this chapter – it becomes more specific, and more full – but still remains somewhat simplistic. I’m not saying that the writing is bad, because I don’t think it is. In fact, I think it’s fine – much better than the writing of “Heart Shaped Box”, an earlier novel by Joe Hill – but not any brilliant work of prose or anything. There are some writers who convey so much meaning, thought, emotion, and detail into a small handful of words, and I don’t think Joe Hill is one of those writers. That being said, I still found myself engrossed in the story, wondering what was going to happen next. I literally can think back, and rather than recalling the words on the page, I feel like I watched it happen (which is part of why watching the movie was so jarring for me at times).
So. The story.
It’s been almost a year since Merrin was killed, which means it’s been almost a year since Ig was arrested as a suspect in her”sex murder” (note, this is the actual phrase used, multiple times throughout the book). Even though Ig was declared innocent by a court of law, pretty much everyone still seems to think he did it. The notable exceptions are Glenna, Ig’s childhood friend/current girlfriend, a couple of cops who hate him for an entirely different set of reasons, and his brother Terry. After a night of heavy drinking with Glenna turned into a night of drunken angst, Ig ditches Glenna, and visits the site of Merrin’s murder. Enraged by the sight of the religious paraphernalia people have left there as a makeshift shrine, Ig pisses all over everything. When he wakes up the next morning, he finds that in addition to his hangover, he’s sporting a brand spankin’ new set of horns. While trying to figure out what exactly is going on with him, he discovers that he horns give him a few special abilities, which launches him on a quest for the truth behind Marron’s death, and most of all, for revenge.
While I found concept really cool, the story compelling, and the characters likable (for the most part), some of them weren’t particularly believable. Plus, so much of the story is centered around Christianity, church, crosses, and other religious imagery, that I was kinda… “over it” pretty early on. I also feel like some of the imagery of horns (like the devil) vs. horns (like a trumpet) imagery was a little too obvious. Like when Ig find his “mute”, it’s a good bit after him recalling a story that explains how mutes work with trumpets and what-not. The thing here, however, is that this little flashback ends with what amounts to “HEY, THIS IS FORSHADOWING OK?” Also, in line with that is the names. The main character is named Ignatius, he drives an AMC Gremlin, he lives in Gideon. There are more, but those are the first that come to mind. At first, it seemed kind of clever, but after a while, it just got a little tired.
There were also a couple of major plot points that I saw coming a long way off – which isn’t a bad thing. They were foreshadowed well, and (for the most part) well written events. It can just be a little frustrating, at times, waiting for the main character to catch up with the reader. Maybe it was just a case of some information being given a little too early, or maybe I’m just too sharp for my own good (doubtful), but it took me out of the moment a few times.
On the other hand, I can really identify with what Ig is going through, in a way. Early on in the book, people start suddenly, and without any hesitation, telling Ig their deepest and darkest secrets. This manifests painfully in some of the people closest to him telling him exactly how the feel about him in regards to, and as a result of what happened to Marron, and his involvement in the case. My heart literally broke for him when that happened. It brought back memories of what happened when I came out to my family and friends – how some people told me straight out what they thought of me and my lifestyle, and how some people didn’t have to say anything for me to know. But then there were other people who were there for me, through thick and thin, where it came out later that the nature of our relationship had changed. That they wouldn’t drink from the same cup as me for fear of getting AIDS (note: I don’t have HIV, or AIDS), or sleep in the same room as me for fear of getting groped, or otherwise molested. They still cared about me as a person, but their view of me changed. TL;DR – I’m sorry Ig. I feel ya, bro.
A few other things – the perspective occasionally breaks. Ig, rather than having the tone of Ig that we become pretty familiar with throughout the story, occasionally adopts a rather different, very writer-ly vocabulary and way of “thinking”. While pretty sparse and brief, these had the immediate effect of pulling me out of the story, and hen looking up just what it was Ig was talking about.
Then there were lines so weird, off the wall, and cheesy that I literally stopped reading, and shook my head in shame. Like these:
He ate them all, stuffing them into his mouth with his fingers, one after the other. He was sure they were 666 times better than the boiled eggs he’d been making for himself at Glenna’s.
His teeth banged together like a clapboard: Scene 666, take one, action!
There are a few other shitty devil/666/whatever jokes in there, but I apparently dumped my bookmarks all over my backpack a few days ago. Womp womp.
Despite all of it’s shortcomings, I thought Horns was a good read. Hell, I read it again, and saw the movie. I give it 4/5 stars.