Monday, May 17, 2010

Review: "Horns" by Joe Hill

My first review... Wow. It feels so important somehow. Kind of like, I don't know, a new beginning or something (cue dramatic, swelling music and fuzzy-lens close-up). It's just so... so... damn special! *sniff

Moving on...

Today I am reviewing "Horns" by Joe Hill. Like most people, I was introduced to this author by reading his first novel, "Heart-Shaped Box" which, to be honest, I initially had no interest in reading. I knew that Hill was the son of Stephen King, who I am not a fan of (*ahem* too many flashbacks), and I was worried that their styles would be similar. Because of this, every time I visited my local Half Price Books, I tried my best to ignore the end cap they had filled with copies of this book.

This went on for a couple of months until one day I was trying in vain to find a book to read and found myself in front of that end cap. I debated with myself for a minute or two and then made a decision. I picked up a copy, read the dust jacket again, and took the plunge.

Let me tell you, I'm very glad I did. It was wonderful. I thoroughly enjoyed reading "Heart-Shaped Box", and it suffered only a little bit from the patented King "flashback-info-dump-itis". Joe Hill had earned himself a new fan.

Flash forward to a couple months ago. I was unaware that a new Joe Hill book was forthcoming, so needless to say I was very excited when I walked into my local Borders and saw "Horns" staring at me from a table display. I promptly ditched any idea of buying anything else, grabbed a copy and checked out. (Well, after going over to the magazine racks and pawing through the European version of Maxim, that is...)

When I got home I couldn't wait to start reading so I dove right in, and honestly I was caught a little off guard. For the first few chapters it seemed like "Horns" might be a comedy because it read very light and fast, and the interactions between Ig (the main character) and the various people he encounters (none of whom seem to notice the little horn-nubs sprouting from his forehead) really had me laughing. I honestly thought Joe Hill had completely shifted gears from his first novel. And he had, but not in the way I first thought.

Let me explain: "Heart-Shaped Box" is a horror novel. It may be funny in places, but Joe kept the creep-factor high, and there was more than one night I had to keep reading so I could come to a spot that didn't leave me feeling too spooked. It's not jump-out-at-ya scary, but it had many sections that left me feeling very uneasy (much like "The Exorcist" ... I still get chills!)

"Horns", on the other hand, is not what I would call horror. If I had to classify it, I think I would label it as "a dramedy dressed up in a Halloween costume". It has genre elements, but they are not the main focus. Sure, the novel gets it's name from the fact that the protagonist has newly formed horns growing from his forehead, but the horns are just a genre conceit Hill used more to direct the participation of the other characters than as a horrific element.

So while Mr. Hill kept his conversational, easy to read style, he used it to much different effect in his sophomore effort. Instead of finding ways to scare us or make us uneasy, he chose to make us think about life, about perceptions, and about loss. He used his genre conceit to force us to look inside and really think about how it is we treat other people and the myriad ways we find to separate ourselves from everyone else.

All that said, there are horrific elements in this book. There are secrets, there is anger, and there is murder. But beyond that there is heartache, loss, and redemption. I actually choked-up towards the end a couple of times.

I'm purposefully not revealing more about the plot here. You can go and read a synopsis anywhere. What I want you to take from this is not what the dust jacket says the book is about, but what it is, in its heart, really trying to say. And that, my friends, is this: Life is fleeting, as is the love we feel while we are here. Don't take either for granted and make every day count. The currency of time is too precious a commodity to be wasted.

"Horns" is a very good book, and I highly recommend it. I love it because it IS different from "Heart-Shaped Box". I hope Joe Hill continues to push the boundaries of genre fiction and continues to explore the human condition in this way. He really is a unique talent.

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I hope you enjoyed reading my first review as much as I enjoyed writing it. Don't forget to comment if you want to agree or disagree with anything I said. I love discussion.

My next entry will be a review of "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" by Seth Grahame-Smith. See you then!


Brandon said...

I remember seeing Heart-Shaped Box on the end caps at HPB too. I was always on my way to the Phtography section, go figure.
Both books sound like great late night reading!

Call Me Q said...

How would you compare these to say - Dean Koontz type stuff? Some of his things just BLOW me away - but I got kinda burned out on him. And Stephen King gets to 'prosy' for me at times.

Scott Macumber said...

Koontz is very formulaic (although I love the "Odd Thomas" books). Joe Hill has a much more relaxed style that reads very easy. I'd say they compare very favoribly, and in my opinion are much better than anything Koontz has done in years.

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