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Book Review: “Horns” by Joe Hill (3 Stars)

02 Mar

A fluidly crafted fiction of magical-realism that twists away from common story-telling pitfalls.

Ig Perrish has been tried and convicted for the rape and murder of his longtime girlfriend—in the court of public opinion. However, he has not been tried in the court of law. Instead of taking the reader on a crusade to clear the good name of the protagonist, the author takes a side turn into a supernatural introspection on good and evil.

I really enjoyed the supernatural elements present in this book, and the modern underplaying and unique twist on classic Christian mythology. Ig Perrish grows horns. Quite literally. This aspect of the story was fun and well balanced, just as you might find in other modern writers like George R.R. Martin. The protagonist has “powers,” but there are logical and understandable limits that allow this aspect of the tale to inform the story, devoid of any kind of deus ex machina contrivance. The nuances are played well, and imagery artfully constructed from well-established traditions. The pitchforks and snakes were fun and fitting elements to give the story an ethereal feel without feeling extraneous or over-played. One of the elements of Ig’s special powers is that people’s darkest secrets and desires are revealed to him. This idea has been done many times over, but the author’s take on it feels fresh. Ig’s not consumed with seeing the worst in people—at least that doesn’t make up the bulk of the story. There are other stakes at play.

The book is divided into chapters, which in turn are grouped into five major sections that allow for time and point of view switches. In one sense, this is a short tale—what really happened the night that the protagonist’s girlfriend is murdered? Yet, I found myself moving along at a decent pace and feeling like the author was close to wrapping up one of the mysteries, when the story would stop and switch gears providing new revelations from a different perspective. This is a sort of classic “mystery” or “crime-story” device that works well as we masticate over the various details we’re allowed to chew on. With each new pass, we learn just enough to keep us hooked for another run—cumulatively inching toward the conclusion. Effective story telling.

The characters were written well. The chief antagonist is believable in the classic sense of a true sociopath, and we really see how much havoc can be caused by an utter detachment from life as a fatal flaw. The protagonist and his strained relationship with those close to him were developed well also. Especially notable was the complicated relationship between Ig and his increasingly detached best friend, Lee. The push and pull struggle which the protagonist agonizes over regarding their friendship felt real and was very compelling. This was the strongest element of the story.

There are some interesting esoteric aspects in this book. Is the protagonist the devil, or is he becoming the devil? Who is the devil and what does it mean to be the devil, or a devil? Is there purpose behind the plight of the anti-hero? A wonderful aspect of this, is that we don’t have to waste time with some kind of annoying struggle where the protagonist fights to hang on to his humanity and free his sole from damnation. None of that comes into this story. An easy trap to fall into, but done to death. So, Hill gets kudos for that.

Still, I would have liked to see a bit more depth in the book. The story flows quite nicely. The main characters are real enough, and their actions are believable in the contexts their given. I felt that we were digging very deep into the emotions at stake. We cared about the characters and the awful things happening to them, and we rooted for the hero (or anti-hero) to raise his flag and champion his cause. Only, what was it all for? There is revenge, yet not so much vindication. Maybe that’s a good thing—maybe that’s more original than other authors might have attempted? I’m not sure.

Another minor gripe I had was the over-the-top puns that increase in the second-half of the story. The author’s style becomes rather tongue-in-cheek as he plays off trite devil references, like classic songs about or mentioning the devil or using the word “damn” a lot. Not a big deal, it just became silly.

Hill has a fluid writing style. He sets up a few key mysteries and drops in reveals at appropriate times so that the story comes to a satisfactory conclusion. This is a well-crafted tale of magical realism intermixed with elements of mystery and crime.

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on iTunes, YouTube or our website.

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Posted by on March 2, 2015 in Book Reviews

 

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