Monday, March 22, 2010

Fiction: Horns by Joe Hill

Funny thing about the kids of the übertalented. When they inherit the talent, there’s the potential for epic satisfaction. This was my thought as I finished the new novel Horns (William Morrow) by Joe Hill, the very talented son of Stephen King.

What would you do if you woke up one morning with a set of horns poking out of your head? What would you do if those horns held the power to force people to tell you the truth? Or if they gave you the power of suggestion -- really convincing suggestion? And what if you found out things you never wanted to know, things that changed the road your life was chugging along on? And what if that road was unavoidably paved with murder, ruination, and revenge?

These questions form the first several dozen pages of Horns, and the answers unfold over the next 400.

Throughout this book, I was never sure if I was reading a crime thriller or a horror novel. But hell, I’m not sure it matters. Joe Hill’s style is quick, fluid, and smart -- a lot like his dad’s back in the day.

Iggy Perrish’s life is pretty normal, really. A good guy, a nice guy who wants to do the right thing at every turn. But there are complications: His dad is a famous musician. His older brother, Terry, is a television personality. His old friend, Lee, seems to have no real life at all, just bouncing from one sorry event to the next. And his girlfriend, Merrin, was brutally murdered a year ago -- and everyone thinks Ig did it. Those are the kinds of complications that can screw a guy up.

In a way, Horns is about how Ig’s past and future converge and diverge. His future was with Merrin; that fate seemed sealed when they were teenagers in love. But life had other plans, as it often does. And though he’s in the thick of it all, Ig doesn’t really have a clue.

Til he sprouts those horns. Then he has all the clues he needs.

The horns are the bane of his existence, a curse that reveals the slimy underside of the lives of the people who surround him. Like the devil, Ig can see the worst of people, even the ones (especially the ones!) who are obsessed with showing only their best. What really happened to Merrin? That’s the driving question of Horns. The horns are the gimmick Hill uses to enlighten us. Every time Ig touches someone, a piece of the backstory unfolds. We see the past -- along with Ig -- in flashes that happen to contain just the information we need. It’s a conceit that would come across as hokey as it is convenient -- if it didn’t work so well. Sometimes enthralled, sometimes ashamed, I bought every moment of it. Turns out the devil really is in the details.

You take the horns, the peeks into Ig’s past, the sticky teenage fumblings in the dark, the dirty-secret fantasies of some of these people, and the pitch-black shades of their well-hidden realities, and you feel like you’re reading a book written by Hill’s dad. It was almost distracting, that nagging thought, and I had to force myself to stop thinking it. After all, it’s not quite fair. But fair or not, like it or not, this apple’s fallen at the knotty-rooted foot of his family tree. Though there are places in Horns when I wish Joe Hill had done a bit more writer’s work, he’s clearly inherited his father's talent for crisp writing, finely etched characters, telling details, just-short-of-too-far plotting, and clever turns of phrase -- and created a story that’s almost (what’s with the fairy tale ending, dude?) epically satisfying.

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Anonymous Marc said...

This is really fair and interesting novels about the horns completed by Joe hills, the very talented son of Stephen King.

Saturday, May 29, 2010 at 12:27:00 PM PDT  

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