Sunday, March 8, 2015

Horns by Joe Hill

In a series of strange incidents, a man with a goatee finds himself in hellish heat, surrounded by snakes, and holding sharply pronged lawn equipment. If that is too subtle for you, there's the fact that he's also sprouted horns overnight.

Horns is a slowly unfolding story told from different perspectives. I haven't quite figured out if I love or hate the literal horns part of the story, but if I press the "belief suspended" button, I can get around that dichotomy. And really, I think that's a part of what this tale is about.

Iggy Perrish is a twenty-something guy whose life has brought him to a distinct point (points?) when we meet him. He wakes up one morning, after a drunken night of desecrating the place of his former girlfriend's sexual assault and murder, with two horns on his head. Seeking advice from his current girlfriend, the medical profession, as well as his family proves fruitless as the horns seem to hypnotize those around him. Instead of figuring out his own dilemma, Iggy learns the dark, secret desires of those he encounters.

While he's still trying to figure out if this is a blessing or a curse, Perrish learns details about his former girlfriend's last night that leads him on a path of revenge (that's not a spoiler, BTW, as the book cover says, "when it comes to revenge, the devil's in the details"). While he's slowly gaining new insight into those he loves and the world around him, he's also slowly gaining, uh, a very particular set of skills, that seem to be related to his latest predicament.

There is a lot to like about this book. Hill's story of Perrish, his best friend, girlfriend, and brother is interesting enough without the horns thrown in. Hill backtracks and changes perspectives to give us insight akin to end-of-life flashbacks. Small details, words, and scenes reveal significance that can only be seen with hindsight. And Perrish's transition, we learn, is not an overnight one. Perhaps his entire life pointed to this inevitable, literal, reminder of evil that has now manifest itself upon him. Perhaps, we learn, good and evil isn't quite so red and white.

Hill's playful writing is both figurative and literal. Through liberal and, at times playful, use of religious imagery including a lot of fire, horns, crosses, and thinly vieiled biblical references, we learn about contrasts. Hill explores literal good and evil, sure, but he also shows how two people can experience the same thing and walk away with completely different meanings. Could both people have been right? Can this same contradiction occur within an individual too? Or are we all completely good or bad?

Perrish's evolution to literal devil is a slow one, complete after a baptism by fire. But understanding his life gives you insight into the true question of whether he is blessed or cursed. But you have to read the book to find out, because as we've already been told, the devil's in the details.

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