Audiobook Review: Horns by Joe Hill

22 07 2011

Horns by Joe Hill

Read by Fred Berman

Harper Audio

Genre: Horror

Quick Thought: Despite its overall unevenness, Horns is a highly entertaining tale of tragedy and revenge by a gifted young writer. The narrator’s characterizations and sense of comic timing enhances the overall listening experience.

Grade: B

I decided upon reading Horns by Joe Hill, my first Joe Hill novel, to avoid the obvious temptation, which is of course, the overuse of Devil puns and clichés. Yet, then I decided to embrace the dark side and give the Devil his due. You see, I grew up in a very religious family, and my mother was hell bent on keeping me from reading any questionable material, which Horns would be in Spades.  Because of that, I now have a devil may care attitude towards such thing, in fact, I seem almost drawn to books like this, Sometimes I think the best way to get kids reading is to tell them they can’t read certain books or styles. Now for me, I have a strange inclination to cheer for the devil in movies and books, and just enough guilt about it to give me a jolt of pleasure. So, of course, a book about someone growing horns and slowly transforming into a devil was right down my ally.  Horns is about a young man named Ig Parrish, who is shunned by his friends and family after the untimely rape and murder of his girlfriend, of which he is the prime suspect. One day, after a bender, Ig wakes up with horns, and the strange ability to get people to tell him their darkest secrets.

Horns was a bit of a rollercoaster ride for me. Not in the twists and turns sort of way, but more in its ups and downs. The book started off amazingly. The first few hours are full of the type of dark humor I enjoy, reminding me of authors like Christopher Moore and Chuck Palahniuk. There are plenty of laugh out loud moments as people reveal to Ig their darkest desires. Then, the book took a turn, with some brilliant flashback moments of Ig’s childhood, and his developing relationship with his friend Lee Tourneau and his girlfriend Merrin. Yet between these scenes we returned to modern day Ig with Horns, who is slowly embracing his devil side as revelations about Merrin’s murder come to light. I found a lot of these scenes a bit muddled and conflicting with the mood set earlier in the novel. It was hard to go from dark humor to Ig’s perpetual sullenness. Yet, as we get closer to the end of the book, there is another mood shift. The book takes a melancholy yet moving turn, with the multiple looks at the last days of Merrin’s life. This is the high point of the novel for me. Hill presents some beautiful scenes between Merrin and Ig, full of life and hope. Hill has developed some great characters, and has done it so well. While this development hits some bumps in the middle of the book, his understanding to the link between romance and tragedy is brilliant. Yet, with all that, I found the ending less than satisfying. With the well done set up, and moving the characters into the proper positions, I felt the end payoff just wasn’t there. Not that it wasn’t well executed, I just feel like I didn’t get the closure I wanted for the characters. Despite its overall unevenness, Horns is a highly entertaining tale of tragedy and revenge by a gifted young writer.

This was also my first experience with narrator Fred Berman’s work, and I was impressed. Berman has a smooth reading style that fit well with the overall feel of the novel. Berman totally embraces the Ig character, performing the hell out of him. Except for his ear splitting scream, Berman allows Ig’s fractured emotions to slowly boil. Berman was also quite believable in his other characters, bringing life to the many screwed up town folks, and Ig’s family. My favorite part of his performance was his sense of comic timing. Berman never tries to sell the humor, but allows it to build on its own, the way it should. Horns lent itself well to an audio version and Berman was and excellent choice to narrate it.

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