Welcome to the October (Halloween!) pick for the Fields & Fantasies book club! Each month or so, in collaboration with my wonderful co-host Diana of Strahbary’s Fields, we’ll pick one book to read and discuss. Today, we’re looking at Horns by Joe Hill:
Ignatius Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke up the next morning with a thunderous hangover, a raging headache . . . and a pair of horns growing from his temples.
At first Ig thought the horns were a hallucination, the product of a mind damaged by rage and grief. He had spent the last year in a lonely, private purgatory, following the death of his beloved, Merrin Williams, who was raped and murdered under inexplicable circumstances. A mental breakdown would have been the most natural thing in the world. But there was nothing natural about the horns, which were all too real.
Once the righteous Ig had enjoyed the life of the blessed: born into privilege, the second son of a renowned musician and younger brother of a rising late-night TV star, he had security, wealth, and a place in his community. Ig had it all, and more—he had Merrin and a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring, and unlikely midsummer magic.
But Merrin’s death damned all that. The only suspect in the crime, Ig was never charged or tried. And he was never cleared. In the court of public opinion in Gideon, New Hampshire, Ig is and always will be guilty because his rich and connected parents pulled strings to make the investigation go away. Nothing Ig can do, nothing he can say, matters. Everyone, it seems, including God, has abandoned him. Everyone, that is, but the devil inside. . . .
Now Ig is possessed of a terrible new power to go with his terrible new look—a macabre talent he intends to use to find the monster who killed Merrin and destroyed his life. Being good and praying for the best got him nowhere. It’s time for a little revenge. . . . It’s time the devil had his due. . . .
My two cents:
Want to know a secret about Joe Hill’s Horns?
At its heart, Horns is a love story. A tragic one, to be sure, but lovely enough in its own way to bring tears to my eyes. Not what I expected when I picked this horror novel to enjoy during the spooky month of October.
In Horns, Ig Perrish lost the love of his life when his one-and-only Merrin was savagely raped and murdered a year earlier. Ig is widely believed to be guilty of the crime, but the case was dismissed without ever clearing his name. Ig is now a pariah, despised by all, wandering aimlessly through the shambles of his life… until the day he wakes up semi-drunk and quite hungover, and finds horns growing out of his head.
The horns are quite real, and seem to give Ig the power of persuasion: People who encounter Ig tell him their deepest, darkest secrets, and with just a nudge, Ig can get them to act on their impulses. Oh, and he seems to attract snakes as well. Meanwhile, with the ability to see inside people’s minds simply by touching them, he’s now privy to new information about Merrin’s murder, and is well on his way to tracking down her killer and making him pay.
Is Ig the devil? Is he evil? How can we explain the horns, Ig’s fondness for pitchforks, his imperviousness from fire?
The symbolism here is rich. Ig and Merrin are presented as true soul mates. When Ig loses Merrin, has he also lost his soul?
Horns is dark and scary — although the scariest element isn’t the supernatural side, but rather, the look inside the very disturbed brain of the murderer. Meanwhile, Ig and Merrin’s love story is pure tragedy — the story of a true and selfless love that is cruelly destroyed by forces outside the lovers’ control.
Written by Joe Hill, son of the legendary Stephen King, Horns feels very much like a King family novel. As in many King books, there are thematic repetitions throughout, a slow reveal of the major event with many hints and glimpses, hidden meanings in everyday objects, and the familiar (yet always scary) concept of people giving into their own worst impulses and letting their ids guide their behaviors.
Horns is a perfect read for the frightful month of October, and I can’t wait to check out the movie version starring Dan Radcliffe! (Scroll down for a peek at the trailer… )
For another view, check out Diana’s review here.
And now for the interactive portion of our program — a Q&A between Diana and me.
Warning: SPOILERS from this point forward. Proceed at your own risk!
Diana: What are your thoughts on Ig’s spiral into demonhood?
Lisa: I thought the author struck a great balance between humor and horror. I loved how the power of the horns meant that no one really looked twice — it was more like “oh, hey, you have horns on your head, and here’s what going on in my own twisted mind”. Ig’s transformation was a living illustration of his inner demons taking over his life, but I like that he didn’t exactly turn evil; he just became focused on vengeance and got the power he needed to attain it.
Diana: Rapes are always a sensitive subject in books and other forms of media. What were your thoughts on Merrin’s rape?
Lisa: Disturbing and awful to read about, of course. I’m glad that we knew up front what had happened to Merrin, rather than having it turn up later as a surprise. The author showed the brutality and violence of the rape, while showing the twisted mind of the attacker and the sick way in which he justified his actions. It really made my heart break for Merrin, to know the terror and pain she suffered at the end.
Diana: During Ig’s Fire Sermon as he discussed what happened to Merrin I couldn’t help but think about all the times that rape was used by the Greco Roman gods as a punishment. I’ve been studying a lot of these myths so I couldn’t help but make the parallels.
This question has to be asked because it’s just this kind of book: What disturbed you the most?
Lisa: See above — knowing what Merrin went through in her final moments was the most disturbing, although I have to say that seeing inside so many people’s minds was pretty creepy too. And of course, getting an inside view into the mind of a soulless sociopath was absolutely chilling.
What did you find the most disturbing?
Diana: By the time we get to the rape scene I already felt like I was wallowing in the mud so by the time we got to the really nitty gritty the stuff that was going on didn’t disturb me as much. The thing that made me squirm was every time a snake died. I have some as pets and it’s kind of like dogs in movies for me. I cringed every time one of them got hurt or died. I am worse when it comes to dogs in movies. The moment the dog dies I’m out, people could be dropping like flies but the moment the dog gets offed I am out.
The people around Ig were pretty horrible. Were there any redeeming qualities for you? Or do you think Joe Hill did too good of a job making us hate pretty much everyone but Ig?
Lisa: I didn’t hate everyone but Ig! Granted, most of the people were pretty despicable. But I did think his brother had redeeming qualities. He really loved Ig and Merrin too, but got too caught up in his own fear and cowardice to do the right thing. And I felt sorry for Glenna. I couldn’t hate her at all; in fact, I was hoping that she’d manage to come out of it all with some sort of happy ending. She was just a poor girl who never caught a break, and I thought she was pitiable, but not unlikeable.
Was there anyone you liked at all? Anyone who was less awful than the rest?
Diana: I liked Terry. He redeemed himself to me by the end. I agree with you on Glenna, she just couldn’t catch a break. I like her and Terry’s ending.
How do you feel about Lee’s relationship to Merrin? Do you think at some level he was justified in thinking she had feelings for him? Or do you think Lee was just a sociopath that couldn’t comprehend any normal relationship cues?
Lisa: The second option, for sure! Lee is a sociopath, and yes, he misread Merrin’s intentions, but that’s not her fault. He put on a good act and fooled a lot of people, always doing what society expected of him and looking like the perfect former sinner, a poster child for salvation — but inside, he was just twisted and beyond hope.
Diana: One of the things that he reminded me of is the recent shootings just outside of Santa Barbara and Seattle. Both of those young men acted out because they believed they were jaded by other young women. Lee really speaks to our need as a society to take a better stance in regards to mental health.
Lisa: What do you make of the treehouse? Why was it important?
Diana: The treehouse felt like it was their personal palace or safe place as you say. I like to think that they are living happily in that treehouse.
Lisa: How did you feel when you found out the big secret Merrin was keeping from Ig?
Diana: In a way it was a bit of deus ex machina, she wanted to push him away because she was sick. It was like Joe Hill wanted to make sure that we walked away liking her, or that no one reading it felt like she had it coming. (which for the record no one deserves Merrin’s fate) It is possible that she just could have gotten afraid of commitment, afraid to leave the US, I’m sure it happens all the time. On the other hand, it added to the tragedy and the parallels I made earlier with the Greek Myths and her rape, the poor girl got what she asked for, a quick way out.
Lisa: Have you read other books by Joe Hill? If so, how do you rank Horns in comparison? And if not, would you want to read more by this author?
Diana: This is my very first Joe Hill book. I am excited to discover this new to me author!
Lisa: Do you consider Horns a horror novel? Would you recommend it only to horror fans, or are there other types of reader who should check it out as well?
Diana: If we go by what Joe defined horror as, as being rooted in sympathy then yes this is a horror novel. I personally am not a horror fan, I am a thriller fan and overall this fit within the thriller genre. I do have to say, this is the first time I have simultaneously swooned and be creeped out by an ending to a book.
Lisa: Ultimately, would you describe Ig as a good person? Why or why not?
Diana: I can’t describe Ig as either good or bad…he’s just human. It’s very true to life. In stories it’s easy to say whose the good guy or whose the bad guy but in our own lives can we really point out who the good guys and the bad guys are? Ig is just like us.
And that wraps it up! Thanks, Diana! It’s a pleasure talking books with you! Let’s do this again next month…
Author: Joe Hill
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: 2010
Length: 368 pages
Intrigued? Read the book for sure — but you might also want to check out the movie version: