This campy, terrifying, heartbreaking novel starts out like this:
IGNATIUS MARTIN PERRISH SPENT the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke the next morning with a headache, put his hands to his temples, and felt something unfamiliar, a pair of knobby pointed protuberances. He was so ill—wet-eyed and weak—he didn’t think anything of it at first, was too hungover for thinking or worry.
But when he was swaying above the toilet, he glanced at himself in the mirror over the sink and saw he had grown horns while he slept. He lurched in surprise, and for the second time in twelve hours he pissed on his feet.
And these two tiny paragraphs grip you and draw you in, much like Ig Perrish’s horns, which, as he soon discovers, give him the power to compel people to confess their most depraved urges and act without inhibition.
I am a fan of Joe Hill (who, if you didn’t know, happens to be Stephen King’s son). I am particularly fond of his short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts and his first novel, Heart-Shaped Box. In an interview, Joe Hill said “you have to remember I’m a completely frustrated mainstream writer. I wound up writing horror and fantasy very naturally, because I love those things and ’cause I think I’m good at it, but I also like and read a lot of mainstream fiction, Tobias Wolfe and John Irving.” And you can clearly see the mainstream (realist? literary?) influences in his writing. There are numerous gleeful references to the Devil in Horns, both pop-cultural and biblical, which have also been pointed out in a New York Times review of the book - pitchforks, snakes, the use of fire and red skin, how evil can be repelled by a crucifix (I know, it’s silly, but stay with me here), deviled eggs, the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”, Evil Knievel, a restaurant called The Pit, a TV show called Hothouse, a brother who drives a Viper, character names from The Exorcist, devil in a blue dress, etc etc – but despite all this, despite all the ribbing, tongue-in-cheek jokes about evil and blasphemy, Hill still manages to deliver an absorbing story about murder and how it affects people. It’s a story about faith – losing it and finding it, at times in the most unlikely places.
I remember reading a beautiful poem in a UP Quill portfolio about the Devil ruminating at a funeral (or the cemetery? I have bad memory), saying that it wasn’t him who told people to put that crown of thorns on His head, to nail Him to the cross. That what the people did was worse than what he could ever have imagined.
Horns is about that, too.