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Book Review: Horns by Joe Hill

October 17, 2011 7 comments

Pitchfork against red background.Summary:
Ig Perrish and Merrin Williams were the perfect couple.  Their love was the love that everyone wants but very few people get.  But one horrible night Merrin is raped and murdered, and Ig is the prime suspect. They’d just had a lover’s quarrel.  Ig was never found guilty, but he was never cleared either.  Now a year later Ig wakes up to discover horns coming out of the top of his head.  Horns that make everyone who sees them tell him their deepest and darkest desires and secrets.

Review:
For those who don’t know, Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son (writing under a pen name, but everyone knows who he is at this point, so I’m not sure what’s up with the pen name still).  It is clear Hill wants his work to be considered on its own merit with no connections to his father, but as a King fan, I couldn’t help but compare a wee bit as I read.  I will say this, Hill’s writing is strong.  This is not the case of a celebrity’s kid with mediocre talent making it.  Hill is definitely talented, and I am interested to see how his writing continues to grow and change.  That said; this book didn’t quite work for me.

Hill’s writing on the sentence level is gorgeous.  He evokes true New Hampshire small town life in exquisite detail and sensuousness.  Every page was a pleasure to read.  The story overall, though, started out strong and ended weak.  It went from a suspense with delicious twists and turns and a supernatural element to a mushy love story and love lasting and staying together after death yadda yadda.  I can take mushiness periodically, but it felt jarring within the context of this book.  This was originally a book about revenge and righting a wrong.  Then the ending came along and felt like….well, like something Nicholas Sparks would write if he was high on crack.

The characterization of Ig, Terry (his brother), and Lee (his best friend) is strong.  These men are three-dimensional and flawed.  They are real.  Merrin is another story.  She seems like an enigma that is impossible to understand.  Is she sweet and innocent or a bit cruel?  It feels impossible to get a read on her.  I’m sure that was part of the point.  Every man in the story had their own vision of who Merrin is, but Merrin is never granted her own agency and personality by these same men.  Although it seems that this was the point, as a woman, I felt a bit let-down by the lack of insight into Merrin. I kept hoping for something, but nothing came along.  Interestingly, I found the minor female character of Glenna to be much more well-rounded and real than Merrin.  Again, maybe that was the point, but it didn’t really work for me.

It’s hard to categorize this book.  It’s definitely not the horror book I was imagining. I’d call it literary paranormal suspense.  It’s a classic tragedy wrapped in mystery and the paranormal.  It didn’t work for me, because, well, classic love tragedies tend not to.  However, I could see some people loving it.  Perhaps people who loved The Notebook and paranormal romance equally well.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Friday Fun (The Hill)

I’ve mentioned previously that in spite of an intense desire to be athletic, I am not, nor have I ever been.  I’m not talking about fit or in shape; I’m talking about that ability to just run up a hill or jump into a basketball game and not get hurt or…well, you get the picture.  Even at my most fit, when I routinely biked at least 15 miles a day and had rock-hard abs, I still got hit in the face with the ball playing backyard volleyball.  Heck, even when I would go running I certainly didn’t look good doing it.  When it comes to fitness, I am not gracefully athletic.  I am awkward.

Anyway, as part of my bid to get back in shape and relieve my anxiety and do good things for the planet, I’ve been biking to work.  Well, not all the way to work.  I can’t make it that far yet.  It takes two city buses to get to my job, so I’ve been biking to the bus connection, which luckily is just about half-way to work.  I live partway down one side of a very large hill.  In the mornings, I have a nice, gradual slope up for a couple of blocks followed by around five blocks of downhill easy awesomeness.  I’m sure you can see where this is going. 

In the evenings, I hit the hill at the end of my ride.  It’s like a giant middle finger taunting me about how much easier this all would have been if I’d just taken that second bus today.  I’ll be riding along, feeling pretty fit and great, passing all the cars stuck in stand-still traffic and happy in the knowledge that I’ve cut my commute time nearly in half.  Then the landmarks start popping up to remind me that the evil hill is nearly upon me.  Now this hill is not just a hill.  The top of it also happens to consist of a bridge, and bridges in Boston for some unearthly reason are narrower than the roads, which means cars that used to be arms-length away are suddenly at your elbow.  And this isn’t a pretty bridge over a river or a gully or anything.  No, no, it’s over the lovely commuter traffic on the Pike (translation: interstate, highway, Autobahn with a speed limit). 

So, I’m at the end of my ride, tired, hungry, sweaty, and there’s the hill.  I dutifully switch down a gear, but something’s fucked up in my bike’s gears and it won’t catch when I go down from 6 to 5.  I have to go 6 to 5 to 4 then back up to 5 for it to catch.  This makes me wobble for a moment in a way that makes the cars near me worry that I’m about to tip over into them.  (This is a fair concern as I did tip over into a car once when I was in highschool, but that’s another story).  Anyway, so after the wobbling, I try to regain my speed, generally to no avail.  And there I am, moving at a pace that eventually becomes so slow that pedestrians are passing me and giving me that “Why don’t you just get off and walk the bike?” look.  No matter how many gears I’ve moved up since starting this project (5, thank-you-very-much).  No matter how much faster I get.  No matter what, this hill is always just as difficult, and I always reach a near stand-still at the top of it.  

It just refuses to get any easier.  It refuses to stop making me look like an out-of-shape loser.  In a way, this hill reminds me a lot of my anxiety.  I want to just breeze through the day perfectly happy and not conjuring up new things to worry about and not get stuck in a loop of obsessive thoughts.  I want to get up that hill looking powerful and athletic.  But no matter what I do, no matter how I start the day, no matter how many times I tell myself this is going to be an awesome day and I’m going to do the right things and I’m going to treat the people I care about with the peaceful trust and respect they deserve, I still wind up sitting at home or in my cubicle at work with a racing heart and panicky thoughts powerhousing through my head.  

My anxiety is just like that hill.  It makes me look like an idiot and makes me feel real shitty about myself, but nothing I do seems to make me able to conquer it.  And yet, I get up each day and say “today is going to be the day I beat that goddammed hill.”  And that’s what I say every day about my anxiety too. Someday I am going to power through the ride and realize at the end of it that that hill felt non-existent, and someday I’ll be at the end of the day and realize that my anxiety is non-existent too.