xoBOOK CLUB: Horns By Joe Hill Left Me With Little To No Sympathy For The Devil

Am I a bad person for thinking the movie was better? Joe Hill fans, set me straight.
Publish date:
November 1, 2015
reading, horror stories, xobookclub, xoBooks, Novels

I was excited when Joe Hill's Horns was voted xoBook Club's book of the month. I loved the trippy, dreamy quality of its film adaptation with all its Easter eggs and double meanings and I expected the film's sly attention to detail to be even more present on the page.

It took me a hundred-ish pages to adapt to Hill's writing style which felt rushed and a rather lifeless. There were some hidden gems of real emotional resonance but, as a writer, Hill seems more comfortable creating rich tableaus in the past than building a tangible present. As such, the story didn't really pick up for me until Part II, "Cherries." Horns, never really hit its stride. Rhythmically and emotionally, it felt as uneven as the hill that Ig careened down, naked in a shopping cart.

It was also hard for me to care about characters who seemed more like tropes than people. The abrasive homophobic cops, the sad and trashy townie with low self-esteem, and the successful sexual sociopath read like lists of traits rather than fleshed out individuals.

Here's the breakdown of my overall impression of the novel. If you're openmouthed with outrage or nodding in commiseration, let's hash it out in the comments.

+ 1 for "strands the color of moonglow" hair.

+ 10 for the great dialogue. Like his father, Hill captures the heart of the angsty adolescent exceptionally well: "I think I like that kind of music. Music to kill people to," and "barring that, let's at least try to destroy something precious and beautiful that can never be replaced," and, my favorite, "A fuck can't just be a fuck. It always has to be a transcendent experience."

+ 5 for the occasional jolts of emotional truth, including: "The people you love should be allowed to keep their worst to themselves."

+10 for the pages devoted to Lee's sicko perspective and backstory. His delusions made him extra monstrous -- something the film lacked.

- 5 for the frequency of the phrase "sex murder."

- 1 for Ig screaming "EEEEEEEEEE." Twice. (Please explain to me who screams exclusively in a single vowel.)

- 10 for uneven pacing. This was a serious problem for me.

- 10 for the logistics of the treehouse of the mind. Why was Merrin on fire and naked? Who planned the wedding? How does time work?

- 1 for the force-feeding of the horns metaphor.

- 5 because the homophobia and treatment of women in Horns made me feel icky. I get that it's there for a reason and that the views of the characters are not Hill's personal views but there was a lot of bigotry that made me uncomfortable.

Agree? Strongly disagree? Feel ambivalent or outraged? Let's high five, throw down, and muse about November's book club pick in the comments.

EDITOR'S NOTE: In Horns' defense, I was simultaneously reading another devil-centric book this month: Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America which was, frankly, amazeballs. So, there's that to consider.