Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The First Ever Review Of Joe Hill's Horns

He felt he was being swept away, not just from his life but from God, the idea of God, or hope, or reason, the idea that things made sense, that cause followed effect, and it ought not to be like this, Ig felt, death ought not to be like this, even for sinners.

-Joe Hill-

So there I was all ready to write an epic tantrum about the idiot move that was the sacking of Sam Raimi from Spiderman 4 and the myriad of ways that this spells disater for anyone who dares to want to tell a big budget movie with (GASP!) a personal stamp.

And then something amazing happened, and I received an advance copy of Joe Hill’s Horns.

You can’t really throw a tantrum after receiving a complementary copy of one of your favorite writer's works a month before it comes out. It just sucks the tantrum right out of you.

I was looking forward to Hill’s second novel. There’s something about Hill that brings out the my most enthusiastic side. I’ve written about this absurd talented writer before. I think Heart Shaped Box is the greatest ghost story published since The Shining, an aching heart broken work that happens to be genuinely scary as hell. 20th Century Ghosts proved Hill to have a mercurial talent ranging in his book of short stories from laugh out loud funny, to pants soilingly terrifying, unbearably poignant, and able to bring forth a sense of unease that rivals David Lynch. Locke And Key is crack in comic book form, weaving a long term story of family, tragedy, and mystery that rivals Lost, in sheer “GOTTA KNOW” from installment to installment.

Once I saw that copy laying at my (REDACTED) everything else officially left the building with Elvis there was nothing on the agenda but reading Horns as quick as I could. Even Hill’s Dad's Under The Dome, which I’m currently 700 pages deep in and loving went on a temporary vacation.

But I can’t say that I wasn’t just a touch nervous, when I started Horns. Even the best authors aren’t immune to the sophmore slump. Sometimes the best authors actually fall on it the hardest.

Hill ain’t one of those authors.

Horns is devilishly good, and if it doesn’t quite reach the heart wrenching levels of Heart Shaped Box, mainly due to the fact that its antatgonist is a drawn more muddled then that perfect sentient ball of malevolence that was Craddock, but also because its messier more ambitious, much more complicated. In either case it comes damn close. It starts out as a pitch black comedy, and slowly morphs into a story of metaphysical terror, that rivals the best the genre has ever produced, taking many intriguing detours along the way.

Horns follows Ig, who we’re introduced to pissing on The Virgin Mary. Ig’s the black sheep of a family of semi celebrities, whose only claim to fame is being the only suspect in the rape murder of his girlfriend a year ago, a crime he’s pretty sure he didn’t commit. Like Coyne the hero of Heart Shaped Box, it isn’t immediately clear that Ig is anything but a worthless bastard. Hill makes brave choices writing his protagonists, he buries the rich veins of decency that make them worth following deep. The question with Ig is it submerged completely. And Hill leaves it an open one.

After waking up after a night of Drunken debauchery during which he trashes an impromptu memorial at the site where his girlfriend’s body was found, Ig wakes up with a pair of Horns growing from his head.

The way it works is when Ig gets near a person, they start confessing their worse impulses, Ig’s overweight girlfriend confesses a desire to binge and recounts the times she’s cheated on him. Ig’s Doctor confesses a desire to snort Oxycotin during his examination of Ig and have sex with his teenage daughter’s friends. Ig is suddenly privy to the worst side of everyone he meets. And what’s more. He can make people act on those desires.

You can probably see how wrong this goes…

Hill tells the whole story with his lucid, witty, occasionally bitingly cruel prose. The passages where poor Ig is forced to hear his loved ones at their most honest and debased take the line between comedy and tragedy and break it over its knee. He keeps the “gag” as it where going throughout the book, having complete strangers admit there darkest secrets to him in a completely nonchalant manner, and it never gets any less queasily hilarious or darkly fascinating. Hill also has a gift for unforced nightmarish imagery whether the scribbles on the eyes of the dead in Heart Shaped Box, the titular character in Pop Art, or the carpet of snakes that eventually follows Ig around in Horns.

Then without warning the book turns into the most demented revenge stories I’ve come across since Oldboy, before morphing yet again into a balls out horror story that’ll make your jaw drop and finally a surprisingly sober story of memory and loss on a cosmic scale.

The book does have some problems in the home stretch, a strange narrative choice kills a lot of momentum near the end, and Hill puts a few too many one liners into poor old Ig’s mouth once things really start to gear up.

It’d be unfair for me to give away the magnificent gut punches Hill and Horns has in store for the gentle reader. Suffice to say that if there where any thought that Hill was just a flash in the pan, this wondrous dark little heartbroken fable should dispel them quite handily.


Neil Fulwood said...

Mother dog! You lucky SOB getting an advance copy of this!!! UK publication date is 18th February and you can bet I'll be hammering down the doors of my nearest bookshop to get a copy. 'Heart Shaped Box' was one of the freakin' best debuts I've ever read, up there with Glenn David Gold's 'Carter Beats the Devil'. Every story in '20th Century Ghosts' reveals a different aspect of Joe Hill. He really is one of the most exciting writers of the moment.

Adrenaline said...

From what I read, Raimi wasn't sacked but walked away because of the crap he was tired of putting up with from the studio. More or less the same end result, but it is different.

Bryce Wilson said...

I know Neil. My face upon seeing it was like Bluto's when they shot the horse. Just "HOLEE SHIT!"

Adrenaline: Yeah but it more or less comes down to the same thing. With Raimi being forced out by Sony Stupidity for not wanting to make a compromised movie.

I'm glad he had the guts to just walk away. But I'm fucking pissed he was put in that position in the first place.