“Horns” by Joe Hill

Here it is, everyone, my first book club book review of the newly revamped club. I understand I’m a couple days late, but Thanksgiving schedules got bumped, so I’m doing it on a Monday. I’ll share it again a couple of times in case anyone misses it. But, without further ado, I’ll jump right into my review.

First and foremost, I have to say that “Horns” was in no way what I expected. I went into the book fully expecting to enjoy it and find it an interesting read. What I actually got a mind-blowing, pseudo-noir, absolute gold nugget. I LOVE this book. The storyline alone is just so skewed and out-of-this-world that I felt myself get lost in the piece every time I started reading. I actually yearned for the next page, the next word, the next section. I felt like I HAD to know what was going to happen. In the end, of course, I felt (mostly) satisfied, even though Hill left the reader to sort of develop their own reasons for why things happened. Most of the time in a book like that, I’ll feel a bit annoyed that the author didn’t explicitly lay out that “this is what happened, this is how and this is why”, but with this book I didn’t even care.

“Horns”, of course, is the story of a man who wakes up and finds that he has sprouted horns. Literal horns that, when anyone looks at them, cause people to divulge their greatest secret or sin. Ignacio is forced to use these horns to uncover the truth about what happened to his girlfriend a year after her murder, and the journey to the truth is one that will blow you away.

One of the coolest things about the book, for me, was the imagery. Seeing Ig transform from this almost hipsterish (in my head) character, to a literal devil was fascinating. When Hill talked about Ig grabbing the pitchfork and putting on the rotten skirt over his red, burnt skin, I could almost picture that classic image of a dancing devil with cloven feet and a bifurcated tail. In all honesty, I think I added those last two elements in my head and found myself a little surprised that it didn’t happen in the book.

Lee Tourneau was one that I just loved to hate. Or hated to hate. Regardless, I was glad to see him finally die. I loved the slow reveal of his sheer sociopathic insanity. It almost reminded me of the slow reveal of such classic characters as Norman Bates, who was always a little off, but was thrown right in your face in the blink of an eye. To see Lee progress from a little weird, to smash a cat’s head in really sunk the image home for me. Until that point I had been leaning toward Ig’s own brother, but I stopped doubting myself right then and there.

Ig’s family and their showcase of support really made me think about just how often people will tell each other lies in order to avoid confrontation. When Ig’s mother tells him the truth that is on her heart, I felt the despair and anger that was rising within him. I knew in that moment that there was no going back for Ig. They say that no matter what happens, the one place they always have to take you in is home. That is in no way always true, and I love that Hill pointed that out. Ig’s entire family, except Terry, basically all but told him that they wished he’d get out of their lives. Terry’s guilt rising to the surface was an incredible sequence as well.

The horns themselves, able to draw the most sinful confessions out of anyone who looks at them, are a bit of thematic genius that I like to think were inspired at least somewhat by The Silence from Doctor Who. Granted, I like to see Who references in most things, that may just be my inner nerd coming out. I was very intrigued to see just how far Ig could push those around him to get them to reveal what he wanted to know and was astounded by the uncanny love snakes suddenly had for him. The horns, along with his goatee presented an image that I don’t think I’d be able to forget. Yet that’s what happened, time and time again. Everyone who looked at Ig just couldn’t remember anything about the encounter minutes after speaking with him. I found that element of the story mesmerizing. It almost calls to the idea that we avoid thinking of our own sin so much that even being forced or coaxed to confess them is not enough of a jolt to make us remember it all.

Now, when we come to discussion of “Horns”, one can never leave Merrin out of the loop. In my opinion Merrin is the best and worst character of the entire book. For a long time we see Merrin as a total victim, a murdered damsel who did nothing but love those around her to the fullest of her ability. But we find out later that this may not have been the whole truth. Hill reveals to the reader that Merrin had broken things off with Ig, had encouraged him to find other women to sleep with, had generally broken the heart of the man we have watched all but fall apart. Many things are insinuated for much of this book, including the possibility that Lee’s delusions may have some weight. We are left to consider the possibility that Merrin may have had another man in mind when she was asking Ig for this separation. In all honesty, there were even times that I thought Hill was trying to insinuate the possibility that Merrin had a thing for her roommate (and speaking of the roommate, what was up with that puzzle thing?). In the end we find out that Merrin had actually broken Ig’s heart for the simple reason that she didn’t want to break his heart. She knew she was likely to die – albeit not by having her head bashed in – and didn’t want Ig to suffer like her parents had. That’s very noble, of course, and kind of puts me in mind of a Nicholas Sparks book (don’t judge), but ultimately is a decision that I think Ig should make for himself. I think we all know he would have stayed stateside, and likely would have married her had she told him about her illness, but I truly think that should have been his decision. I think Merrin should have told him the truth instead of kill his spirit the way she did. Does this also make her a villain? Does this make her just as responsible for what happened to Ig as anyone else is? Personally I think the answers here are difficult. I wouldn’t call her a villain, but I’m certain that, had she told him the truth, she and ig would have had a lot less pain in some ways.

Now, there honestly wasn’t much that I didn’t like about the book at all. One thing that I did find that I didn’t think fit was the fact that Merrin’s cross protected Lee from the horns. I understand the whole concept of the horns being a satanic gift (I see you and your treehouse L. Morningstar) and the cross is a religious symbol, but Lee was basically evil personified. It was like Ig, who was good at heart, had to take on the mantle of evil to fight an evil being lurking behind a symbol of good. I know that description may have lost some of you, but that’s my brain. Personally I feel that’s something Hill could have altered. I think in a world where we can accept the mystical possibility of sin-revealing horns sprouting from a man’s head, then we also should have been able to accept the fact that the cross would be able to see Lee’s evil and not protect him. Of course, there’s the possibility that we look at that element and say it was suggestive of evil people hiding behind a religious symbol and being able to avoid persecution. Personally, I like the idea that Hill may have intended something along these lines. Historically there have been many people who have hidden their evil and evil motives behind a religious symbol, and it’s definitely not above Hill’s history to suggest that.

Of course, I couldn’t make this post without making a slight mention of Hill’s parentage. For those that don’t know, Joe Hill is the son of none other than Stephen King. In my opinion, this makes him uniquely qualified to be an author of this magnitude, and I think that it shows in some aspects of his writing, particularly his subject matter. Over all I think this book was a bit of sheer genius, with few flaws. I very much enjoyed the subtle nuances and ‘easter eggs’ placed throughout and I feel the project was very excellently executed (no pun intended). I would love to have been a neuron in Hill’s mind and have a first-hand look at just how this idea came to be. But what did you guys think? What questions did the book leave you with? Was there anything that you particularly loved or particularly hated about the book? I really hope you guys will weigh in here and share this with anyone and everyone you know. Book clubs are a great way to interact with people and have a potentially intellectual discussion on many topics.

Finally, I want to know what you guys want to read. What book do you want me to do for December? I’ll try to have my decision made by the 3rd, so I’m hoping to hear a lot of good answers. Like I said before, if I get more than one suggestion for a certain title, or more than one person commenting on that title it will hold precedence. Of course, if I only have one suggestion, a number of people who make one suggestion with no response, or (God forbid) no responses, then I’ll make the decision and let you all know what it is. So jump in, dig your feet in and get into the discussion. I want to hear the most detailed idea possible about these books and I really want to have some in-depth discussions! I look forward to it, so let the comments begin!

3 thoughts on ““Horns” by Joe Hill

  1. I am so glad you lied this book! I also always thought it was a strange concept that Lee, the personification of Evil, was protected by the cross. Is it just the object itself? It that a part of Ig’s, “curse?” I did like how even though Ig becomes the literal devil, he is still given the image of a fantastical hero figure at the end!

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    • I agree. Giving him that ending almost spits in the face of standard texts where the good guy still faces damnation after succumbing to evil. In a way it’s almost like Hill was trying to point out that we’re all a bit of a devil at times, but good can come of it. Of course, that could just be me being crazy!

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  2. Pingback: “Horns” by Joe Hill | Damean Mathews

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