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Joe Hill's Horns

For some inexplicable reason I started reading the Joe Hill book Horns, which is about a character named Ig who goes on a bender one year to the day that his girlfriend was brutally murdered and wakes up to discover a pair of devil horns growing out of his skull.

Ig quickly discovers that the horns give him to power to compel people to divulge their ugliest thoughts to him. He also discovers that if makes skin-to-skin contact with another person that he instantly knows their worst secrets.

He sees his doctor about the horns, but his doctor tells him that all he wants to do is crush and snort some oxycontin and that he likes to masturbate while watching one of his teenage daughter's female friends cavort in the pool from the bedroom window. He then learns that priest, mother and grandmother detest him, believing that he was the one who killed his girlfriend.

High conceit it is not. Truthfully, the willing suspension of disbelief comes grudgingly.  It is an entertaining but not exactly great work of popular fiction.  But as the book wears on it acquires that fugue-like quality that I love in good genre, the sense that plot is being energetically driven by the desires and flaws of each character.

The most interesting thing about reading the book is the constant awareness that Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King.  I couldn't help but compare. They're both excellent at character-driven plot. Both of them have a pedestrian but effective prose style. Père King has a slightly more febrile imagination; you sense that Stephen is writing about things that genuinely frighten him. And Joe tends to overwork the symbolism (Ig brother's obviously had to be a world-famous trumpet player, because horns, right?)

But there is one area that the son excels in: heart. The story has an emotional center of which I'd never experienced in any Stephen King novel.  Yesterday I had to stop reading a breakup scene on the subway because it was too upsetting.  Stephen always wanted to be taken as a straight fiction writer, but I'm wondering it won't be his son that fulfills that destiny.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 3rd, 2014 01:52 pm (UTC)
I didn't read your post because of spoilers, but from skimming it, it sounds like it might be ok. I was lukewarm at best on his first novel.
Aug. 5th, 2014 01:24 am (UTC)
I honestly haven't finished it. I'm about half way and I'm trying to see if the plot is going to progress somewhere interesting or unravel. It could go either way.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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