BRIEF SYNOPSIS: After a night of drinking, Ig Perrish wakes up to find that he’s sprouted horns.
PROS: Hill excels at believable characters and demonstrates once again that he is one of the best speculative horror writers out there.
CONS: The narrative jumps around its own timeline often – those not paying attention might find themselves going back and rereading the prior chapter.
BOTTOM LINE: Joe Hill’s second novel, Horns, is a stunning novel that left me very creeped out and breathless while at the same time, I couldn’t put it down. Mixing popular culture and religious allegory, Horns presents a fascinating philosophical story wrapped amongst a personal tragedy that embroils each character in New England.
Awaking one morning to discover that he’s grown a pair of horns on his head, Ig Perrish is ushered into an uncertain couple of days as people around him begin to impulsively tell him their innermost secrets. Ig has had a rough year: his girlfriend was brutally murdered, and while he was ruled out as a suspect, he’s suspected by many, including his own family. As people talk about what they thought of him, without inhibition, the story begins to unravel the lives of Ig and those close to him. The true nature of the crime begins to come to light, and as this happens, Ig is forced to confront those responsible.
This is a hard book to pin down when it comes to genre: it has elements of any number of genres, with crime to supernatural and horror elements throughout the text. Unlike some of the horror novels that I’ve picked up over time, this book’s titular transformation isn’t a gimmick designed to scare, or turn Ig into a monster that reflects how he reacts to the horrible things that have happened to him. Rather, his transformation is more subtle: it demonstrates the devil inside every person, at what they are able to do to one another. The horns themselves act as a sort of philosophical gateway towards the nature of faith and the inherent motives of people. The story takes a surreal turn towards the end of the book, as Ig quite literally turns into a devil figure, complete with the red skin and pitch fork, but this transformation is almost an afterthought, a symptom of his state of being.
Horns is a powerful book: it’s on par with some of the best speculative fiction that I’ve read in recent months, and undoubtedly moves to help cement Hill’s position in the horror/supernatural genre alongside – not behind – his father, Stephen King. Hill’s writing brings a depth and understanding to a story in all of its literary glory, and this is a book that should not be missed.