Reading Joe Hill - In Which One of the "Nice Guy" Grows the Horns of Satan and Hookers are Discussed
"In a lot of ways, I guess Satan was the first superhero."
"Don't you mean supervillian?"
"Nah. Hero, for sure. Think about it. In his first adventure, he took the form of a snake to free two prisoners being held naked in a Third World jungle prison by an all-powerful megalomaniac. At the same time, he broadened their diet and introduced them to their own sexuality. Sounds kind of like a cross between Animal Man and Dr. Phil to me."
-From "Horns" by Joe Hill
After being tipped off about Joe Hill's novels by several of my peers, I eventually decided to check out one of his books and see what all the fuss was about. So I started reading Heart-Shaped Box...hmm, okay, not bad. It was a good read; a little slow to get going, and some moments at the beginning that felt like descriptions of movie scenes instead of prose, but I read through the book and was entertained. The best sections, in my opinion, were written in the backstory between Jude, an aging heavy metal rockstar, and his goth girlfriends. (It seemed a little self-indulgent on Hill's part to be writing from the point of view of such a protagonist, but the story had enough of a campy feel to it I think it worked. When I mentioned the character to my wife, she shook her head. "Of course," she said, a smirk playing at the corner of her mouth.) Hill is good with human connections and it shows in these scenes.
At the end to the book there were the first two chapters of his next novel: Horns. I thought, why not? I was already planning on reading something else, but when I read the first couple of lines, I was hooked:
"Ignatius Martin Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke the next morning with a headache, put his hands to his temples, and felt something unfamiliar, a pair of knobby pointed protuberances."
These two sentences are perfect, don't you think? Simple and brilliantly constructed and that was all the encouragement I needed to purchase the book and continue on my Joe Hill kick. While Heart-Shaped Box is a decent enough read--if you enjoy the horror genre and have at least a marginal sense of humor--Horns is actually a solid piece of fiction. It does flag a bit at points, but the story comes together as it unfolds. The characters are realistic and their relationships are intense and dramatic. The flashback scene of Ig and everyone as kids playing around in the woods, throwing insults, and generally being gross and offensive, was an excellent scene and brought to mind my own childhood, as I'm sure it has/will for others. (I also couldn't help but be reminded of the scene in Stephen King's It where the kids get together to build the dam in the wilderness area around town...) I wouldn't call this novel a "horror" novel, as it is not really "scary" in any way, but the novel is an interesting revenge story with an edge in the form of the devil as an entity whom advocates for the flaws and pleasures of the human race, not as a Mephistopheles-like seducer, but as an opposing force and defender against the fundamentalist purity of That-Guy-Up-There's demands. A good read.
There is a short exposition of King's where he discusses "Hookers" (you can find it in his collection of essays, "Secret Windows," published as a companion to his book "On Writing" -- I recommend both to anyone wishing to find success with his/her writing). In it his young son, who is just beginning to discover his love for the story and for writing, asks him about "hookers," not the kind that stand on street corners and carry venereal diseases, but about those first opening sentence or sentences at the begin of a story that are intended to "hook" the reader into continuing to read. His son asks him if his stories have good "hookers" and King is forced to admit many of his opening sentences are less than successful in this department.
What does this have to do with Joe Hill? Uh...nothing...only that Hill knows how to write a good "hooker" and the opening to Horns is a perfect example. We could all learn a thing or two from Mr. Hill.