Written by: Ike Beal
What separates moral and monstrous are ever-shifting in the sands of time- what may have been considered heroic then might be horrendous now; the Devil is not in that criteria. Although flattering lights have been cast upon him, he’s never been given much love; especially in the literary world. Old Mephistopheles can’t seem to catch a break, since it’s all too easy to make him kiddy-pool shallow; a foil to any hero and interchangeable with any other menacing baddie. But give him a good writer, however, and one can create sympathy for the devil.
Joe Hill is one such writer; one that’s tearing up the literary world with a cavalier attitude and a style all his own, Hill takes bizarre concepts and wraps them around relatable characters in one big, beautiful package. Horns is the most famous example, having gotten its own terrible, awful movie that horribly represents the source material and does service to the old, “The book was better than the movie,” stereotype.
Unburied hatchets aside, Horns centers around Ig Perrish; a man circling the drain over the grief of his soulmate Merrin Williams’ gruesome murder, and as if the grieving process wasn’t enough, he also stands accused of the crime. On top of all of this, he’s also woken up to find two fleshy nubs on either side of his head.
These horns make the people around him confess their darkest desires, expelling like vomit secrets resident in the souls of all of humanity. Now, slighted, hated, abused, and framed, what’s a good man to do but exact revenge on such a godless town?
Hill crafts one hell of a yarn: tight, efficient, and built to last, Horns’ prose is no-nonsense and straightforward. The pacing and story-telling reflect this mentality; cutting the fat from the story to make it lean and effective- all elements service the narrative.
While being one hell of a page-turner, Horns does have its issues: mainly, the flashbacks- while well done and charming to no end- generally kill the pacing and stop any head of steam it had going. Don’t get me wrong, the Sandlot-style imagery is welcome in such a bleak story, and the main-plot already sometimes strains to fit its length The flashbacks needed to be better integrated to keep flow. The set-up also forces the story’s encounters to become repetitive at times; one starts to find the pattern early on and that’s when a sense of monotony sets in that is somewhat pervasive in the latter half.
Despite my gripes, Horns is a sight to see; as bizarre and unsettling a sight as it is. It’s a treat for its deep characters and light horror elements that craft a world that is simultaneously incredible but as real as the one we inhabit.