Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #17: Horns by Joe Hill

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In spite of his debut novel Heart-Shaped Box faltering spectacularly down its final stretch, I picked Horns up from the library on a lark. With the book about to hit theaters, starring Daniel Radcliffe as its main character,Ig, I thought I might as well.

The end result, though, remained the same, with Horns just sort of sputtering out as it neared its final pages. The villain gets his, but it comes in such a hasty, anti-climactic fashion. Then Ig, our anti-hero, just sort of fades back into the woodwork in ludicrous fashion, robbing the story any sort of satisfying conclusion to what it’d spent all this time building up to.

In short, like Heart-Shaped BoxHorns just ends, not naturally, but rather because Hill decided it was time when, in reality, it was far from it. Though I guess it’s appropriate that the stories of each character meet such unsatisfactory endings, given I wasn’t invested in, let alone rooting for, a single one of them.

To be frank, Ig could’ve become the literal devil and brought about the end times, wiping everyone, himself included, out and it would’ve been alright in my book. At least then we wouldn’t have been subjected to any more of his philosophic rants. Or, even worse, have any more characters involuntarily reveal the dark secrets they, and everyone else, are hiding.

Look, Hill, I get it. We all have our secrets, things we’d never want anyone else to know. We tell lies, ranging from white ones to deadly, festering black ones. Even those people we think we can trust are no less deceptive than the rest. In fact, they sometimes harbor secrets deep, deep down that can inflict more physical and emotional harm on us than anything else imaginable.

Do we need to be reminded of this so routinely, however? It’s as if he gets a perverse feeling of joy from thinking up reprehensible back stories for his entire band of characters, all the way from Ig’s family to the priests at the local church. After so long, I just started skimming these passages and filling in the blanks myself, a task that isn’t all too difficult once you’ve read enough of them.

Worse still is when the reader is thrust into the head of Lee, a character so over-the-top in his villainy that he makes everyone else look like veritable saints by comparison. Like with the aforementioned passages, I often found myself starting to skim the bits involving him, trying to get back to what I felt was the real heart and meat of the story, Ig and Merrin’s relationship.

From the argument they had preceding her untimely demise to the letter from her that Ig discovers near the end, it was compelling enough that there was no need for the more fantastical aspects of the story, in my opinion. The horns might have been the intended hook, and they function as that rather nicely, but I think Horns would’ve functioned better if it were allowed to be more personal and slow-developing.

Because it wasn’t until we began to snatch glimpses of the past that the novel gains any sort of considerable immediacy, ironically enough. While I took issue with the way he jammed the flashbacks in, taking lengthy trips back in time seemingly at random rather than peppering that backstory throughout, the content made me forget about all my misgivings.

Likewise, Hill has enough of a flair for writing, clearly passed down from his father to him, that Horns remains an enjoyable enough read despite its bounty of problems. It wasn’t until I finished and went back to reflect upon the story that I really started noticing the flaws since, outside of the ending, they had felt minor in the larger scope of things at the time.

Lastly, Horns strikes me as the sort of book that will benefit from being adapted into a film. Some stories are just better served told through a visual medium, and given over to someone else to tidy up, and I thinkHorns certainly qualifies as one of those. We’ll see, though.

In the meantime, I’d suggest you give it a read, if only to prepare yourself for the movie. There are worse ways to spend your time.

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

4 thoughts on “Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #17: Horns by Joe Hill

    • Yet I think Hill struggles with it much more than his father. Personally, I’ve never had any issues with how Stephen King chooses to end his stories, but Hill’s helping me at least understand where his father’s critics are coming from.

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