Joe Hill, 2010
After a night of heavy drinking and misbehaving, Ignatius Perrish woke up with a vicious hangover... and a pair of horns growing out of his temples. Not being able to remember what happened the night before, Ig has no idea how they got there, or how to make them go away. But the horns have a power over others - anyone who comes into contact with Ig immediately feels the impulse to tell him their deepest, darkest sins and secrets. Unfortunately for Ig, most of the people in town think that he raped and murdered his girlfriend, so a lot of their secrets are how much they hate him. But when the horns allow Ig to find out who really killed Merrin, he takes a turn to the dark side, hoping to use his new power for revenge.
When reading Joe Hill, I often find myself comparing him to his father - Stephen King - even if I don't want to. But they're both horror writers and they have a very similar technique at times, so it's hard not to. A book like Horns, although labeled as "horror" due to the topic and the writer, has very little real horror in it. It reminds me of something like Gerald's Game by King - creepy and disturbing, but more a character piece than a horror story. [Side note: I really didn't like Gerald's Game, but more for subject matter than writing style.] Unlike Hill's Heart-Shaped Box, which was a delightfully scary ghost story, this book had really no scary moments in it, and was more of a tale of revenge and sociopaths.
Which brings me to my second connection with King - both father and son are really good at writing sociopaths. (Should we be worried?) The character of Lee in this book reminded me very much of Brady Hartfield in King's Mr. Mercedes (Horns was written before Mr. Mercedes, so I'm not accusing Hill of stealing ideas here). I thought that once the book switched over to Lee's point of view, it completely changed the tone of the book and I found it much more interesting.
That, in fact, goes back to the biggest problem I had with this book - Ig is just not an interesting enough character to carry the story. And he should have been! He was turning into a devil, which should have made him very interesting. But while he had his moments, I just didn't feel that he was strong enough. The parts of the book that I liked best were the ones where Ig was interacting with others under the influence of his horns, and the parts where we learned more about Lee. When Ig was alone, or when we were shown Ig's backstory before the horns, I found the book a lot slower paced and a little less intriguing.
I guess that Joe Hill, for me, can be a bit hit or miss at times, but there is a lot of good there. And I think that even though I liked the story of Heart-Shaped Box more than this one, it's obvious that his writing is improving. I'm very much looking forward to following his career and seeing what he comes up with next. I don't know if he'll ever reach the level of skill or popularity of his father, but he certainly has the potential.