Reviewed by Mac M.
The existence of God and Satan; the essence of good and evil; the true nature of man at birth – all of these most basic theological issues have been viciously debated by philosophers, preachers, and poets for ages. The wide ranging choices in religion and ethics in the world speak to the diversity of thought on these topics. Whatever your position, Joe Hill’s Horns forces you to confront your beliefs, and the experience may be uncomfortable.
After a hazy night full of alcohol, celebrating the anniversary of his fiancé’s brutal murder, Ignatius Perrish awakes to find horns growing from his head, pointed and sore from their eruption. Worse yet, the horns induce raw confessions from people. When Ig shows the horns to someone, they unburden their deepest, most sinful yearnings. Glenna, Ig’s live-in girlfriend, begins binge-eating and, between glazed bites of doughnut, she admits to an episode of parking lot sex with his best friend. Ig’s doctor reveals a substance abuse problem and an unhealthy fascination with his teen-aged daughter’s best-friend. But the real shocker comes for Ig when his friends and family begin sharing details about the night of his fiancé’s murder. As the confessions mount, an unholy conversion begins in Ig, until he stands at the brink of losing either his humanity or his soul, or both.
Let me leave my own confession in the shadow of Ig’s horns – Horns was a difficult book to read and an even more difficult book to enjoy. I’ve seen my fair share of criticism for books that offended the critic’s personal sensibilities. I’ve chaffed at the loss of objectivity or the gall at a critic’s refusal to place a book in its proper cultural context. But the truth is that a book can reach too deep into the soul of a reader or cross too far into the protected regions of belief and value. Sometimes those books offer a stiff challenge, an opportunity to expand perspective and thought; other times the book is too much of a stretch, too far out of the comfort zone.
Horns, for me, was outside the comfort zone. Ig was too susceptible to evil, reveled too easily in the practice of it. The characters who confessed their darkest thoughts seemed altogether devoid of any redeeming quality, and Ig’s world seemed altogether devoid of any trace of goodness. Not until the final pages does anyone finally dare to choose selflessness over self-indulgence, good over evil. By the time I was done with the book I felt exhausted and battered.
To be fair, I am a Joe Hill fan. While Horns may not be my favorite book, Hill is a consummate story teller and character builder. Hill brings a rare subtlety and comprehensiveness to every character’s life and choices. And the hint of melancholy sentiment that Hill manages to evoke as Ig looks back over his life is Bradburyesque.
Bottom Line: Horns may not be for everyone; depending on your perspective, it will either exhilarate or revolt you. On balance, I’d say Joe Hill would probably be happy either way.
The first 1000 people to preorder Joe’s latest novel and then email firstname.lastname@example.org with proof of purchase will receive a specialized bookplate from Joe – he’s been signing and doodling all sorts of creations on bookplates for days now!
For more information on this giveaway and the rest of Joe’s books, visit www.joehillfiction.com and follow Joe on Twitter @joe_hill.
Mac M., aka blackdogbooks on Librarything, lives in the American Southwest and works in law enforcement.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper Paperbacks. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.