Monday, September 3, 2012

Horns, by Joe Hill

Hooking a reader is alllll about the first chapter of a book.  I realized this, and developed a new appreciation for that fact while reading Horns, by Joe Hill.  Hill’s opening chapter is only two (short) paragraphs.  In it, his protagonist wakes up after a hard night of drinking to discover he has horns growing from his forehead.  He promptly pees on himself.  Because, wouldn’t you?

Horns is the story of Ig (short for Ignatius), who, one year after the brutal murder of the love of his life, is unable to get his act together.  Unfortunately, Ig is the prime suspect in the case, and has never been cleared.  In a small town, that means a lot.  On the morning Ig wakes up to his horns, he starts on a path to closure.  The horns, while at first shocking, prove to be useful – when he’s around, people confess things to Ig and, when Ig touches them, he can see their thoughts.  All of this adds up to the tools to solve a murder.  I won’t give away much more of the plot; I wouldn’t want to ruin it for you.

There are several interesting dynamics to this book that I want to touch on though.

The first is the imagery of the horns.  They are everywhere, and not just the kind you see on Ig’s forehead.  Ig’s father and brother are musicians who specialize the in the trumpet (or, a horn).  Ig wanted so bad to be part of this tradition as a kid, but asthma kept it from him.  The other way this imagery comes into play is the cuckold’s horns.  The reader is never quite sure (until the very end) who is cuckolding who, and how serious each case is.

The second aspect of Horns that I really enjoyed was the play on Ig’s name.  It’s so close to the term ‘Id’ that the links can’t be ignored.  According to Sigmund Freud (who developed the Id-Ego-Super Ego theory), the Id “knows no judgments of value: no good and evil, no morality.” “It is the dark, inaccessible part of our personality … We approach the id with analogies: we call it a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations.... It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle…”  This perfectly describes Ig following the appearance of his horns.  He is in chaos himself, he takes pleasure in bringing chaos to those around him, and he develops his own morality structure.  And he does all this while being perfectly rational, and with a sense of humour.  Hats off to the author for this dynamic.

Finally, coming from this link to the Id, and Ig’s own action, this book raised a lot of questions about what is good and what is evil.  On the surface, Ig is a demon, if not a devil.  But he’s only trying to find peace in his own life.  Often times, he pulls people back from the brink, or pushes them over it when they deserve it.  Ig is operating within a morality structure of his own making, but it’s one of a survivor, and I couldn’t really begrudge him that.  While from the outside Ig might appear evil, in fact I think he’s probably one of the purest goods in the book – there are multiple characters with whom he interacts that would better wear the black hats of a bad guy than Ig.  This left me asking myself, am I rooting for the Devil to win?  And I guess I was.  It’s an interesting dynamic that Hill played with, and one I commend him for.

So, final verdict?  I totally recommend you read this book.  I’ll be going out looking for Hill’s first novel (this is only his second), and I’m adding him to my list of authors to look for during my strolls through Chapters.  I can’t speak highly enough of the characters, plot and writing style to do this books justice, so I think you should all go out and discover it for yourselves!  

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