Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Sympathy for the Devil
by Joe Hill
"Ignatius Martin Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things." So begins Joe Hill's excellent sophmore novel, Horns. As the straightforward title suggests, the novel has a simple, high-concept premise. After the aforementioned night of doing terrible things, Ig Perrish wakes up the next morning with a pair of horns growing out of his head. His reaction is typical enough. After the immediate shock of it, he concludes he's hallucinating--and either way, he'd better see a doctor.
It is with these initial interactions, with his girlfriend, the folks in the doctor's office, and most disturbingly with his family, that Ig makes several unpleasant discoveries. No one reacts to the horns. Rather, they're compelled to share their deepest, darkest, sickest secrets. Trust me; you don't want to hear the most vile thoughts of a stranger on the street--much less those of your grandma!
Just when this grotesque show-and-tell is beginning to feel a bit old, Hill moves on and dives into the meat of his story, Ig's story. One year prior, Ig's childhood sweetheart, the love of his life, was violently murdered. The crime was never solved, and Ig is widely believed to be the murderer. Very widely believed, he is to learn. Hill's novel ultimately spans several literary genres. It's a supernatural thriller, a murder mystery, a coming of age story, and a dark comedy all rolled into one. And the novel succeeds quite well on all counts.
As the story drew to its conclusion, the thing that was very noticeable to me was how elegantly constructed the novel was. It was like a perfect puzzle, with different clues and unanswered questions salted throughout. By the end, everything came together in a way that wasn't so much neat as inevitable. It was elegant. And it was emotionally satisfying. And it was darn entertaining, which is just about the highest praise I can offer.
P.S.: For those of you who realize there is a coded message on the end papers of the novel, but are too, uh, busy to decipher the message, I'm putting the solution in the comments section of my review.