Monday, November 18, 2013

Horns by Joe Hill

I have been on kind of a Joe Hill kick lately, with Locke and Key, N0S4A2, and Heart-Shaped Box. The Lethbridge Chapters hasn’t had Hill’s Horns stocked for a few months, which might mean it’s going to get a movie tie-in cover and re-release shortly (the film adaptation stars Daniel Radcliffe), but I hadn’t been able to find it at a store to buy in the last little while. I finally took it out of the library to read yesterday.

When Ig Perrish wakes up the morning after a night “drunk and doing terrible things,” he finds two protrusions growing from his forehead. On closer examination, he finds that he has grown a pair of horns, “each of them about as long as his ring finger, thick at the base but soon narrowing to a point as they hooked upward.” Ig tries to remember what he did the night before, believing that he did something so awful that he caused the horns to grow by themselves. He only remembers visiting the foundry, the place that his girlfriend Merrin Williams had been killed the year before. Ig is still suspected in her murder, even though he didn’t do it. The foundry becomes a central location in Horns, and Ig returns there periodically as the story progresses. Beneath a black cherry tree, the inhabitants of the small New Hampshire town that he lives in have left flowers and photos in her memory. Ig can’t stand what other people have turned the place that she died into: “A cross with yellow roses…It was like an electric chair with flora-print cushions, a bad joke.”

As Ig’s day goes on, he discovers that the horns are more powerful than he at first realized. Anyone who sees them tells Ig their deep and dark secrets, horrifying things that they would do if they could. When Ig and his horns are gone, everyone forgets about him and the conversation that they had, and Ig walks away knowing more than he should. When he visits his parents, they tell him that they secretly believe that he did kill his girlfriend Merrin, and that they can’t stand that he is still alive. But it is Ig’s brother Terry who reveals the biggest secret. He tells Ig who really killed Merrin.

The narrative jumps back and forth between the present and the past, creating a picture of Ig’s adolescence with Merrin, his brother Terry, his current girlfriend Glenna, and his best friend Lee, and the decisions and choices that eventually lead to Merrin’s murder. I loved Hill’s character Glenna, “With her tattoos and her paste-on nails, her bookshelf full of Dean Koontz novels, her cigarettes and her rap sheet, Glenna was the un-Merrin.” Even after Hill flushes out her character through flashbacks and through the present story, she continues to be a genuinely surprising and endearing character.

Horns is a revenge novel more than it is a horror story, one that makes Ig’s journey towards the end of the story that much easier to invest in. It’s full of references to TV shows, movies, and music, always tying the story to a very real world even when the fantastical aspects are clear from the start. Judas Coyne, the protagonist of Heart-Shaped Box, even gets a mention, making Hill’s story universe grow even more elaborate and layered.

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