JOE HILL — HORNS — 2010
Two young people, Ig and Merrin, or Ignatius and Mary if you prefer, or whatever. Two young people who are just plain normal and deserve the perfect wedding of the end of the story and they will be happy ever after though they will have no children.
Their life was from the very start ruined by a compulsive liar who pretended to be the best friend of Ig and a good friend of Merrin. Lee he is named, like the general you know, and his family name should have made him suspicious since it is Tourneau, very French indeed, and the French are all chefs cooking the whole world in their kitche of hell. He is also a thief and he can steal whatever he wants and particularly what belongs to his friends and in this case Ig’s girlfriend Merrin.
The vision of the situation in Gideon is a nightmare painted pink as if it were the happiest birthday party you can imagine. In fact, it is absolutely nothing but a big mess of frustrated people who have failed in all their actions and have made up with their failures. Few are those who do not fail. One of them is Ig’s brother Terry who is a successful trumpet player who has had a good career in Los Angeles as the host of some kind of popular TV show, something like a soft version of the famous Apprentice, the show that was the best starting block of the most dangerous comedian in the world.
But Ig is another story. He has asthma and cannot play the trumpet like his father would have liked him to do, like his brother. He is captured — and there is no liberation and no return — by a flashing golden cross in a church some Sunday morning. But this young enterprising girl who is flashing her cross at Ig had a sister who died of an extremely fast and ferocious form of cancer, and this type of cancer is carried in the family. So you may guess what will be her fate. Ig and Merrin fall in love and will never fall out of love, and yet.
Joe Hill is a good storyteller who is able to jump from one period to another forward or backward and at times cattycorner. We thus discover little by little the important elements of the story and when some recur they have been enriched by some flashback or flash forward. This gives a texture to the story that is like real life because in real life nothing is really experienced along a simple timeline but we constantly bring back what we remember and we also mix some dreams or projects into what is plain immediate reality. This entirely crisscrossed story line is vivid and fascinating. We get lost in the consciousness of a super-character who is telling the story the way it comes, the way he remembers it, the ways he imagines it, the way he dreams and wishes it.
But Joe Hill has another quality. It is his way of mixing some supernatural elements into reality that becomes both virtual, surreal and mesmerizing, in spite of the fact that we know it is impossible but it is so plausible in the story, and this plausibility comes from the fact that the devil, the one who carries or wears horns, who is by the way betrayed by Lee his best friend who takes possession of his girlfriend one night, hence the horns are the horns of a cuckold, but this demon or devil is not a creature from the other side of reality. He is, in fact, the main character, very human, very standard in his Christian faith, but he becomes the devil because in a way it is written in his own fate. He is so easily fooled by people and he is so happy to believe in his love and in Merrin’s love that anyone can take advantage of him and he will forgive them, and he does. So after the drama, after his loss of Merrin, after one full year of hell on earth, the devil that is in any one of us comes out and he starts growing horns. The point is that they are not fantasized at all. They are real.
Along with them, he gets special powers, which are not that special. He becomes the man to whom everyone tells whatever they have never told to anyone else, no matter how gross. He can also influence the decisions of people he is confronted to and erase their memory. In fact, he is what some would call a medium, a seer, and is sole presence leads people to do or say things out of compulsive trust and they will forget about it as soon as Ig will move away. The truth some people suddenly embrace in front of his horns is always the result of some kind of trauma and we all know PTSS or PTSD can lead people to extreme actions and extreme declarations, though here Joe Hill avoids Tourette syndrome and the repetition of piled up four letter words into fiery compositions. That’s why these superpowers seem quite natural since theuy reveal the problems of Ig’s counterparts.
Strangely enough in the band of six young people concerned in this novel, Ig and Merrin will be able to reunite at the end in some kind of fiery heaven beyond Ig’s real voluntary exit from life through fire. Cancer and fire bring them both together finally. Two, Lee and his sidekick Eric, will die killed by each other while both are trying to kill Ig, so they actually kill each other by accident because their real target Ig is too mobile, too resilient and though he is just in front of the door that cast no shadow, the gate to beyond there, he manages to destroy these two arch-sociopaths. Terry, Ig’s brother, and Glenna, Ig’s girlfriend after his Merrin had been taken away, some solace more than any real love, find out that both have quitted what they were doing, Terry in LA and Glenna in the beauty parlor of hers and both are moving to New York and they will be able to build some kind of a relationship, though it might be a way for both of them to mourn a brother and/or friend. Is mourning a good motivation for a sentimental relationship? Personally, I do not know.
But human nature is so resilient that I believe anything is possible, at least for a while.
The last remark is about the religious context of this novel. It is obsessed in a way with God, the devil, Mary as Jesus’s mother, angels, prayers, candles and even a menorah that is in a way out of place, especially with an image of Satan on its stand, implying that Satan and the Jews are one, except of course if the menorah is not seen as a Jewish symbol and the Hebrew inscriptions are not Jewish either. Yet I find the translation of this Hebrew note slightly flat:
“THE TREE HOUSE OF THE MIND
Tree of Good and Evil
1 Old Foundry Road
Gideon, NH 03880
RULES AND PROVISOS
Take What You Want While You’re Here
Get What You Need When You Leave
Say Amen on Your Way Out the Door
Smoking is NOT prohibited
L. MORNINGSTAR, PROPRIETOR”
And in this tree house of the mind in a cherry tree mind you — I guess Joe Hill knows his George Washington saga — the matches used to light the candles on the menorah are in a box identified as LUCIFER MATCHES. And we all know, thanks to the TV series Supernatural that Lucifer is an angel of light that has been cast down, where Satan is his antagon, a cast-down angel of darkness.
But the best part is the sermon from the Foundry fireplace to the serpents. It is beautiful and it reflects that Ig — who is the hero in this book — reveals an evolution in the USA about religion, I mean the dogmatic Christian religion that is fundamentalistic at times, and Lee Tourneau is such a Christian fundamentalist depicted as a twisted tortured and vicious pervert. The evolution goes in another direction:
“The devil knows That only those with the courage to risk their soul for love are entitled to have a soul, even if God does not. . . I do not claim that God is dead. I tell you He is alive and well but in no position to offer salvation, being damned Himself for His criminal indifference. . . Whereas the devil is anything but indifferent. The devil is always there to help those who are ready to sin, which is another word for ‘live’.”
And that leads us to the last part of the book, ‘The Gospel according to Mick and Keith’; aka Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, or any other Mick and Keith you may prefer, like the pianist Keith Jarrett and the guitarist Mick Goodrick, both jazzmen like Ig’s and Terry’s father, and like Terry himself. But without challenging Naomi King, the author’s sister who is a minister, who can only disagree with what follows, I would say that Joe Hill reaches some kind of inspired spiritual vision when he says “Satan was the first superhero.” And his vision of the Garden of Eden as a sexless prison with no basic human rights because Adam and Eve, there, were not human beings, just the playthings of God, is refreshing in the fact it means young Americans are coming of age, the age to question all beliefs, truths and other dogmas since every single time one states something as being the truth it means that it cannot be questioned and that is totally anti-human. Some will say that’s normal since it is divine. My foot!
But here are Super-Satan:
“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.”
This is so true, well, so vividly provocative to bring up a tremendous discussion and I must say sex led Adam and Eve to Cain, Abel, and Seth, and we know all the drama that came from these three kids. Note no girl in that offspring. I guess the two original playthings of God were not that well programmed for procreation and descent.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU