Devil in a Blue Dress: Horns by Joe Hill
Curiosity killed the cat. And curiosity is what brought me to read Joe Hillís new novel, Horns. Horns! Well, thatís paranormal, right? Devils and stuff? Thatíll be great for my column. The truth, dear readers, is that it really isnít. But thatís okay, because when life hands you lemons, you make them into culturally relevant internet columns that hopefully some people enjoy reading.
Horns tells the story of Ignatius Perrish, who wakes up one morning to find that his foreheadís sprouted horns. No matter where he goes, everyone he encounters suddenly opens up to him about all their sordid secrets and lies. Even his family members tell him (cruelly) exactly what they think of him. In a weirdly amusing scene after an encounter with his Grandmother, Ig pushes her wheelchair down a hill where she crashes into a fence. We learn that the night before Ig grew horns he was out pissing on a Virgin Mary statue near where his girlfriend, Merrin, was murdered a year ago. (Note to self: do not piss on statues of the Virgin Mary.) In a rambling progression, Ig finds out more details about Merrinís murder from the honest accounts he can get from people in his town -- nearly all of whom believe that Ig murdered Merrin in a jealous rage when she told him she thought they should see other people. Ig might be the devil, but heís no murderer.
In case youíve been living under a rock: Joe Hill is Stephen Kingís son, and for some crazy reason has decided to become a writer working in an overlapping genre. Hillís first book, Heart Shaped Box, was critically acclaimed and Iíve no doubt that Hill is a talented writer. However, this sophomore attempt is disappointing. Aside from the bumpy chronology, itís difficult to connect with any of the main characters, especially Ig, who never really comes off the page. Merrin has potential but we only get to know her in reference to her relationship with Ig. Her death overshadows the whole book and itís the reason behind Igís failure to launch -- almost as if the lack of Merrin in Igís life turns him into a monster. He even goes as far to guess that his horns are a manifestation of his true self. This makes me a little nervous. I donít like the idea that women should be used as some sort of saving grace to encourage men to mature and become moral beings. Men should do that on their own, without the help of a girlfriend functioning as some sort of mother savior figure. I suppose putting women on a pedestal might be better than not acknowledging them at all (Updike) or making them into a funnel for all your bullshit (Roth) but really Iím not sure.
However, the relationship between Merrin and Lee (Igís best friend who hopes to make it with Merrin) is truthful and points out a dangerous miscommunication between men and women. Merrin loves Lee as a friend, and he interprets her gestures of friendship as come-ons, arguing when she finally turns him down that she had been leading him on. Hill doesnít quite get to the didactic level of relating ďhey, communication is really important,Ē but we get the idea, and I appreciate the gesture.
Joe Hill has the potential to write a great paranormal novel if he can figure out the best kind of Sci-Fi or Horror analogy to make. Igís horns never really come into play aside from their ability to make people tell the truth. Heís not much of a monster at all -- heís milquetoast. In his next novel, Iíd love to see Hill challenge himself by writing a strong female protagonist with some sort of flaw, supernatural or not. But make her flesh and blood.