Sunday, February 28

Lost: The Detox (week 3)

Believe it or not, I actually manage to devote headspace to things OTHER than Lost on a weekly basis. Each weekend, join me for "Lost: The Detox," where I'll talk about some of the other media I've enjoyed or been annoyed by. This week: My first mixed review.

Joe Hill's "Horns" - a brief review.

Joe Hill is a gifted writer. Capable of deftly etching interesting characters, constructing a compelling plot, and turning a nicely evocative phrase, Hill is an exciting talent in the world of fiction. I wasn't sure what to expect when I started his new novel, "Horns," but I quickly fell into the mystery of Ignatius Perrish and the devilish horns that appear on his forehead, seemingly conjured in the middle of the night.

Halfway through this ambitious book, however, the initial thrill of Hill's plotting and prose gave way to something approaching disappointment. The deeper I got, the more the world of Horns seemed to shrink. From a truly intriguing premise, something relatively pedestrian emerged.

None of which is to say that Hill's written a bad novel. It's simply a novel that doesn't know what it wants to be. Hill succeeds in preparing you for a gourmet meal, but ulimately fumbles in the final presentation.

It seems to me that a novel which attempts in part to explore the nature of evil, the role of satan in the world, and the hidden (awful) depths of the human heart ought to feel a lot less safe than Horns ultimately does. The book opens with the idea that it's main character has done something 'terrible' he can't remember, and that this terrible "something" led to his horns. But that something, when finally revealed, isn't much of a something after all. And that same sensation of things being less interesting, less complex, and ultimately too unexplained permeates enough of the novel that i don't think I'd recommend it.

While I appreciated Hill's characterizations overall, the friendship between Perrish and Lee never reads as believable, and ultimately, some of Hill's larger concepts (I'm looking at you, 'Treehouse of the mind') feel like the sort of hyper-important-yet-unsatisfactorily explained deux ex machina devices that Hill's father, Stephen King, so often falls prey to.

The novel that Horns ends up being fairly comparable to, in a number or ways, is "Lisey's Story," by King. There's the same sort of admirably and movingly rendered portrait of loss, the same intriguing but totally unexplained sense of magic (re "Lisey's Story": What the heck was up with the brother who sort of maybe turns into a werewolf or demon or maybe doesn't, but is all feral and touches himself and they keep him in the basement or something - which you don't typically do unless the kid is actually a monster but King never tells us which is sort of cool but also ultimately kind of frustrating and ends up making things feel incomplete and not purposefully vague and which is maybe what both writers were attempting with this stuff, but it doesn't really satisfy), and the same sense that in the end, things turned out smaller and less interesting than they'd seemed when the book was opened.

Kind of like this review, really.


  1. I haven't read any of Hill's novels, though I'm considering picking up "Heart-Shaped Box." Your response to "Horns" brins to mind some people's fears about Lost's end. The show has spent the majority of its run building up to an epic conclusion (Conversely to Hill's novel, it's increased in scope), but there's so much concern that it won't stick the landing, that too many things will be left unexplained.

    But this is a detox column, isn't it? Yesterday I caught up with this season of 24. That is definitely a show that benefits from watching chunks of episodes rather than week-by-week. Otherwise, one of the subplots going on this year would have driven me mad.

  2. Interesting review. Even though it was essentially negative by the end, it made me very curious to read it.

    You should do book reviews after Lost comes to an end! I've gotten lots of very good ideas of what to buy next time I go to the bookstore from your rewatch columns.

  3. Hey, Katie! Great to see you in the comments again.

    I've been toying with the idea of starting a generalized review/analysis site once Lost finishes, where I could cover whatever I feel like on a given day (including books, obviously). If there's enough interest from you folks, you might see something pop up at the end of May.

    I'm glad to hear that you've gotten some ideas from my ramblings. Did you end up reading "The Sparrow"? And if so, what was your reaction?


  4. That should have read "did you end up finishing The Sparrow"?

  5. Resident -

    I've never gotten into 24. It's not "weird" enough for me, I guess ;)

  6. Morse - completely unrelated to anything on topic, but thought you might like to know that next to your name on this site there is a broken image icon where I am guessing some little picture ought to be? (You've got a nice site, but that seems to be missing, and you probably don't see it missing when you are signed in to your own site).

  7. Thanks, Morse! I've been keeping up with the columns, but schedule-wise it's been hard to keep up with the comments. Should be better from here on out, though.

    And yes, I did finish The Sparrow! I liked it quite a bit and I thought the characterization was especially well done. My only (slight) criticism was that I thought the pacing was a little off in some points. I like the slower, ambling pace of the beginning of the novel a lot, but occasionally I thought things either dragged or got jerked along too quickly. But the last few pages were fantastic (especially in the way they managed to be so heartbreaking but also almost startlingly hopeful at the same time) and like I said, the characters were great, and the writing was lyrical.

    Have you read the sequel by any chance? I'm kind of intrigued, but I'm also just generally wary of most sequels. Conference of Birds is next on the list!

  8. Glad to hear you enjoyed it - I agree about the pacing, but I chalk it up to the fact that it was the writer's first novel(!). I have not read the sequel. Like you, I'm generally wary. And I was moved by what I'd read to the extent that I'm not certain I'd want that sensation compromised by a sequel - no matter how good it might be.

    Still, never say never.

    I think (hope) you'll truly enjoy The Conference of the Birds.