"Horns:" Joe Hill's novel takes on evil, suffering and bedevilment
A review of Joe Hill's novel "Horns," a sensual, grotesque, suspenseful take on guilt from a devilish point of view. Hill reads March 2 at Seattle's University Book Store.
Special to The Seattle Times
Joe HillThe author of "Horns" will read from his book at 7 p.m. March 2 at the Seattle branch of the University Book Store.
Free 206-634-3400; www.ubookstore.com).
by Joe Hill
Morrow, 384 pp., $25.99
Why do we suffer? In "Horns," his second novel, Joe Hill confronts this thorny theological problem from a devil's point of view.
Ignatius Perrish (Ig for short) is presumed guilty for the rape and murder of his high-school sweetheart. Ig is innocent, but due to the accidental destruction of evidence he remains untried, except in the court of public opinion. His figurative demonization turns literal after a drunken visit to the murder site on the first anniversary of Merrin Williams' death: horns sprout from his head, and he gains access to the private hells of those around him. His family and friends reveal their awful secrets: their twisted, repressed desires; their festering fears and hatreds. His older brother confesses the most awful secret of all: the name of Merrin's killer.
In scenes sometimes gorgeously sensual, sometimes wrenchingly grotesque, "Horns" ranges between flashbacks of Ig's childhood and first experience of love to his hate-filled quest for revenge. At the age of 15 he accepts a character-forming dare to ride down a dangerously steep road in a shopping cart. Hill perfectly captures the moment: "... he found himself plunging forward into a euphoric near silence, the only sounds the shrieking wheels and the rattle and bang of the steel frame. Rushing at him from below, he saw the Knowles River, its black surface diamonded with sunlight The ... wind sliced at his bare skin so keenly it burned, he burned as he fell, Icarus ignited."
Richly allusive, "Horns" references not only classical mythology, but Biblical texts, pre-Christian folklore, and such rock 'n' roll legends as Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. Hill ties the title to musical instruments and the figurative horns of the cuckold as well as the bloodstained protuberances Ig grows in the course of one drunken night.
Though the author (Hill is Stephen King's son) never lets us ignore the sound of cracking bones and the smell of rotting offal endemic to horror, he explores large swathes of metaphysical territory, too. Evil and suffering exist, "Horns", postulates, so whoever created the world can be either all-powerful and given to random cruelties, or good and merciful, but with limited capabilities. And devils, evil's personifications, can be seen in dizzying perspective as servants of good when, like Ig, they punish sinners. Hill's survey of the question of suffering is a wild ride, as filled with thrills as his hero's headlong plunge down to a dark and dazzling river.
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