by Joe Hill
William Morrow, (c) 2010
Recently I had the misfortune of being terribly sick, laid up in bed and feeling awful. That said, I was incredibly lucky that I had, mere days before, checked out Joe Hill's latest novel Horns. Had I not been in bed for an entire day I would have not had the luxury of reading the entirety of this book in one sitting, and I would have had to steal every spare moment here and there to dive back into the book and find out what happened next.
And let me explain just one other thing, for a librarian, I'm not a terribly fast reader. I read at the speed of spoken conversations, which is amazingly slow compared to many of my colleagues. For me to actually blaze through a novel as quickly as I did means that it was a relentless onslaught of reading from morning to night.
I could absolutely not put this book down.
Horns follows the life of Ignatius Perrish. He is the son and brother to famous musicians, as well as being the prime suspect in the brutal murder of his former fiance Merrin. It seemed that all those troubles were behind him, until he wakes up one morning with two large knots on the side of his head. It's clear that they are horns, but he has no idea why. What he quickly learns is that under the power of the horns, people will reveal their darkest truths to him, beginning with his live-in girlfriend Glenna, who immediately confesses that she wants to make herself repulsive to him because she can't bear to tell him to get out of her life. And that's just within the first 10 pages.
What follows is an ever deepening look into the differences between the face we show the world and the thousand things we wish we could say to one another save for propriety. Hill asks a lot of intriguing questions about lies, omissions and truth; what we say to people versus what people hear; what we say and what we mean; and the blurry lines between good and evil. Not only that, but it's wrapped in the most deeply intertwined writing, where every element of the story fits neatly into every other. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Horns is that it doesn't really fit into any easily defined category. While, sure, there are elements of fantasy or horror, I wouldn't say that it's either of those things. It's just a great story.
I would strongly encourage anyone who read Joe Hill's short story collection 20th Century Ghosts to get this latest novel. I admit that I wasn't that thrilled with his first novel Heart Shaped Box, but I gave 20th a shot and it was absolutely brilliant work. Horns fits right in with some of those great pieces, particularly You Will Hear the Locust Sing, which blends Kafka's Metamorphosis with school violence. In both stories the reason for the transformation is very unclear, but the power that it awakens in the character leads to some of the most intriguing metaphors.
So, check out the book, carve out a day, sit down and read from morning 'til night. You'll be glad you did.