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.