Horns by Joe Hill

Horns by Joe Hill
Horns by Joe Hill

Every single one of us has got the devil inside, and nobody knows it better than Ignatius Parrish the narrator of Joe Hill’s novel Horns. Ig wakes after a night of sorrowful drinking to find he’s grown horns on top of his head. Worse yet, the horns bring out the worst in everyone Ig encounters.

Ig isn’t a very popular guy. Most everyone in town suspects he murdered his girlfriend, Merrin — even his own parents. The horns give people permission to tell Ig how they really feel about him. It isn’t pretty.

But Ig’s horny head is a blessing, too. The horns allow him to get to the truth behind Merrin’s murder and mete devilish justice out on the guilty.

Horns has excellent plot and pacing, especially in the first half of the novel. Paired down to its bare bones Horns is a balls-out revenge novella, something straight out of EC comics. But Hill adds depth through flashbacks and character development. Merrin and Iggy get fleshed out nicely, and their story takes on the homespun sweetness of a high school romance.

Hill visits delightfully dark places in Horns. (How fun would it be to push your annoying grandma’s wheelchair down a hill and into a fence?) Hill brings some metaphor to the mayhem, too.

It was something, the way the wheelchair picked up speed, the way a person’s life picked up speed, the way a life was like a bullet aimed at one final target, impossible to slow or turn aside, and like the bullet, you were ignorant of what you were going to hit, would never know anything except the rush and the impact.

Hill finds ways to weave thoughtful contemplation into his revenge narrative.

Pi is an irrational number, incapable of being made into a fraction, impossible to divide from itself. So, too, the soul is an irrational, indivisible equation that perfectly expresses one thing: you.

Even though Iggy’s gone demon, he hasn’t forgotten what it means to be human.

I want you to remember what was good in me, not what was most awful. The people you love should be allowed to keep their worst to themselves.

Some of the symbolism in Horns is a little heavy-handed (Ig’s father and brother are both accomplished “horn players”), but overall Hill brings the story home in fine style. While Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box staggered to the finish line, Horns is a fiendish read with a satisfying conclusion.

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Short Stories: The Mystery and Men’s Magazines by Richard Laymon

Short Stories: The Mystery and Men's Magazines by Richard Laymon
Short Stories: The Mystery and Men’s Magazines by Richard Laymon

These stories are a throwback to a simpler time; a time when people drove around in faux wood panel station wagons, wore bell bottoms, and read fiction magazines for entertainment.

That’s right. People used to read. Fiction. For fun! In magazines!

The first Richard Laymon story I ever encountered was “The Champion” published in an early issue of Cemetery Dance magazine. Here was a story filled with grit, unpredictable characters, non-stop action, and a twist ending that would make O. Henry jealous.

I discovered more of Laymon’s signature work in the pages of Cemetery Dance and other small press publications. All of his short fiction was low-down, dirty, and twisted. “Desert Pick-up,” “Oscar’s Audition.” “The Grab.” Each was a gem shinier than the next, all of which are collected in Short Stories: The Mystery and Men’s Magazines. Why couldn’t I find Laymon’s novels in bookstores? I finally got my hands on a used paperback copy of The Cellar, which turned me into a full-fledged Laymon disciple.

You can see Laymon’s favorite themes in their infancy in this collection. A camping trip interrupted by a knife-wielding maniac is the setting for “Out Of The Woods,” which also displays Laymon’s economic-yet-effective prose.

He grinned as if a glimpse of his big crooked teeth would help me understand better. It did.

Sure, some Richard Laymon short fiction isn’t very original — he riffs on everything from folk tales, to urban legends, to noir detective fiction — but the stories are well crafted, elegant in their simplicity, like Amish furniture.

Some of the stories in Short Stories: The Mystery and Men’s Magazines seem particularly rudimentary. Laymon used to write Easy Reader-style mystery and suspense fiction for both adults and juveniles, and that style comes through in a few of the stories here.

But Laymon had style! Nobody — except perhaps Elmore Leonard or James M. Cain — used dialogue better to advance plot and define characters. Why Richard Laymon was never a big Hollywood screenwriter is a mystery to me.

Miss you, Dick!

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Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Author Rick Riordan found a way to make 6th grade Social Studies interesting by giving Greek mythology a modern update and employing a likeable adolescent hero in this first installment of his Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series, The Lightning Thief.

Percy is a dyslexic, ADHD kid who has been kicked out of six schools in the past six years. He’s also a demigod — a half-human, half-God hybrid. Percy’s Mom is a nice lady named Sally Jackson, and his father is one of  Olympus’ Big Three — Zeus, Poseidon or Hades. Learning his father’s identity is the first of many quests for Percy.

Riordan taught English and Social Studies and is the father of an ADHD child, all of which he incorporates into the fictional world of Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Riordan also uses Neil Gaiman’s American Gods formula of putting mythological gods in modern day America, breathing new life into the stuffy, dusty world of centaurs, satyrs, and sea nymphs. The Lightning Thief plays out like an action adventure flick rather than a retelling of Bulfinch’s Mythology.

As Percy travels the country trying to solve the mystery of Zeus’ missing lightning bolt, he battles some major monsters, including Medusa, Echidna, and Chimera (as well as avoiding the allure of Kronos’ hypnotic whisper from the dark depths of a Tartaran pit). Things get a little heavy along the way and some parts of The Lightning Thief might be scary for kids — but isn’t that the mark of all great children’s literature?

There are enough backstabbings and betrayals to make The Lightning Thief read more like junior high crime noir than Greek mythology. Riordan keeps the plot twisting and turning right up until the very end — which, of course, leaves the door open for the other four books in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.

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