Ignatius Perrish, also known as Ig, is accused of murdering his long time girlfriend Merrin Williams by basically everyone in town. One day, after all the months of fighting for his innocence and being let go as a suspect for the lack of evidence, Ig wakes up with knobby little horns on his head. These horns aren’t a body modification by his own doing but instead the work of a higher (or lower) power. One by one, each person who sees the horns begin to reveal things about themselves. Whether it be a deep dark secret or something they just keep to themselves, he knows even when he doesn’t want to. Soon this “power” leads him to learn who the killer of his girlfriend was – his own best friend. In an act of revenge, and grief, Ig stops looking at the horns as a curse but instead a blessing.
The pace of the story isn’t exactly slow but it also doesn’t rush past you either. Hill manages to take his understanding of language and emotions and wraps you up inside every small moment. Often I come across sections in books that hold so much exposition that it becomes overwhelming and tiresome. Instead, in Horns, each piece of exposition that is in the form of a flashback, ties into the story either right away or later on. For example, you learn about Ig growing the horns and his disdain for them, his fear of them. Later, you learn that his father was a horn player and his brother took up the same talent. Sadly for Ig, he was asthmatic and couldn’t live up to the legends. This is a small aha moment for the title but it slowly begins to make sense that what one horn didn’t work for him another did.
These tie-in’s don’t only show up in the storytelling, they make themselves very prominent at the end of the book. Without giving away much, the final scene is Ig is lighting a fire, but the scene laces together a past scene that wasn’t mentioned before into the present one that creates this pirouette of a one moment him of fighting for his life and one moment of him letting go of a piece of his life he was never going to get back. It’s beautiful in literature because though it may not seem clever, it is done so well and so eloquently that those words alone create a scene in your mind. And that’s another thing, those small details that aren’t so small later on create a perfect image of these peoples and places and smells and feelings that it’s truly almost easy to wash away the movie that did the book zero justice.
When I saw the movie years ago and had zero idea that it was from a novel, I watched it with this confusion as to why did he have horns? Why did he love Merrin? What made her special and what about him made him special enough for her? What made their truths so painful for them aside from being his parents and people he grew up with. Of course it’s hard to stomach knowing an entire town that you grew up in found you guilty of a crime you never could commit, but the movie seemed a bit, well, shallow. As much as I hate to say “the book was better”, I just think that those tiny details of not just knowing that Merrin left the necklace behind for Ig, but Ig once traded it to Lee and Lee took it in hopes of a blowjob but gave it back for the excitement of a cherry bomb made the difference in my feelings towards the story.
As for the horror aspect, I don’t think that this delivered a horror in the traditional sense of what keeps you up at night. It was a horror of the human condition, in a way. More of gothic fiction because of its dark undertones. For instance, Ig’s mother didn’t believe in his innocence in the murder. This truth came out when the horns arrived. In a pleading fashion, she wished he disappeared and never came back. His father admitted to tampering with evidence that could have proved his innocence because he just didn’t want to take the chance of him actually being guilty. When Ig traveled around town, going to the priest he grew up with and others along the way, many just wished for him to kill himself. There’s nothing more terrifying than knowing that those who helped shaped you, mold you, and watched you flourish and grow believing that you’re capable of something so heinious and disgusting. It’s horrifying when someone you trusted and considered a friend would not only take away someone you love but then leave you to be framed for it all. I wasn’t scared by the story, I was saddened by those around him.
These truths that came to light showed a piece of us all that we keep hidden, the part of us that knows compassion and empathy. When taken away, we’re the monsters. The story brought that question to the surface: was Ig the monster for having the horns or was everyone else the demons? As much as it’s hard to admit, we’re all guilty of sometimes thinking the worst of people we know and love.
Now, as much as I did praise the exposition, I still hate so many chapters that rely on backstory to tell the one at hand. I loved knowing the characters as whole, as humans, but it took me a little over two months to read because there was so much that I was given each time I read that it felt a bit overwhelming. I was engrossed with wanting to know what was happening next but it felt like a bit of a requirement to know the past in order to know the future. Though, to be honest, it took me so long because I’ve been mentally preoccupied with so many other works so, in a way, it wasn’t always a relaxing read for me.
I loved the book but I wasn’t in love with it as much as I loved the writing and it’s style. The ending left me in a bit of wonder, which may have been it’s intention but nonetheless it felt more ambiguous and full of wonder that in a way still made me a bit sad. I’m not sure if my expectations were high or if they weren’t high enough but I wasn’t met with much in return for everything. Though, this doesn’t mean I won’t go for another of his novels and maybe finally biting the bullet to read the infamous work of his father, King.
Overall, I’d give Horns a 4/5. It was a story unlike any other, and hopefully not like all his others.