A Dark Story

Horns by Joe Hill
Grade: A

Horns was a Kindle Daily Deal on a day when I was actively using my Kindle for the first time. I had recently read the Wikipedia article on Joe Hill, though I don’t recall exactly why. I was probably led there while doing some research on Stephen King (his dad). In any event, since I’m a fan of Stephen King, I was naturally curious about his son’s writing. I thought $1.99 might be a small price to pay in the name of curiosity and the exploration of the Kindle’s potential (my opinion of that device and the e-reading experience to come soon, I hope). I downloaded a sample of the book.

IGNATIUS MARTIN PERRISH SPENT the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke the next morning with a headache, put his hands to his temples, and felt something unfamiliar, a pair of knobby protuberances. He was so ill—wet-eyed and weak—he didn’t think anything of it at first, was too hungover for thinking or worry.

But when he was swaying above the toilet, he glanced at himself in the mirror over the sink and saw he had grown horns while he slept. He lurched in surprise, and for the second time in twelve hours he pissed on his feet.

The bit about pissing on his feet, that cracked me up. After reading just this part of the sample, I went ahead and bought the book.

I have to say, though, that it’s not a funny story. It is, at least at the beginning, unrelentingly disheartening. As Ignatius soon learns, his horns come with certain demonic powers, one of which is that anyone looking at him feels compelled to confess their deepest, darkest secrets, including their real thoughts about Ignatius himself. One by one, the people in Ignatius’s life—his current girlfriend, his priest, the police, his family members—tell him what they really think of him. And with each person he encounters, you think, “Please, let this one be kind!” But most of them believe he raped and killed his former girlfriend, who was found dead in the woods a year ago, and they haven’t forgiven him for the crime or for getting away with it. With his life in shambles and no one to turn to, the only thing left for him to do is to explore his new powers and maybe find out the truth about what happened to her.

Hill has the same talent as his father for honest storytelling and really getting into people’s heads. Horns was engrossing. It was not a happy story, but it had what I would call a happy ending, all the more precious for the horrors that came before. I recommend it to those who can stomach violence and vulgarity in their reading, and who don’t mind a rather dark view of organized religion.

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