Oh, Joe Hill, how ridiculously I enjoy your books.
Ig wakes up one morning a year after his girlfriend was raped and murdered (for which Ig himself was blamed but of which he was innocent), and Ig now has horns that make people confess their worst impulses to him. Things unfold from there. YAY.
The book is divided into five main chunks - 1) Ig Wakes Up With Horns And People Tell Him Horrible Things; 2) Flashback to Ig Meeting Merrin His Girl And Lee His Not-So-Best Friend; 3) Ig Confronts Lee The First Time; 4) Inside The Really Rather Reprehinsible Psyche of Lee, and 5) Everyone Shows Up At The Same Place At The Same Time For The Final Confrontation.
There is something creepily compelling about the first section, with Ig fumbling along trying to figure out what the hell is going on with the backdrop of everyone telling him all these horrible, horrible things. Plus, of course, there's the ending cliffhanger that makes part two initially enraging, because all you want is to know more Right Now about the main plot line, forget the damn flashback!
But then part two wins you over, and it is also by far the most Stephen Kingian thing I have ever read from Joe Hill. Hill manages to capture that same thing King does, particularly in It, with the creation of the separate world and hierarchy kids live in, and it rings really true. (Older kids than King usually writes, with the special added fillip of puberty, but they feel
the same. And I mean that in a good way.)
Part three is back to the main plot threat with some really excellent flashbacks, and I really like how Hill draws things together and starts laying the pins down to knock them over without entirely revealing the path all his characters are going to walk.
Part four left me feeling really gross. It was exceptionally well-done, but I'm really, really tired of reading stuff from the perspective of men who view women as lesser life forms, there for their amusement, manipulation, and abuse. Yes, it's an excellent shorthand to depict how vile a character is (which is what I know was being done here, to excellent effect), but that's still a fifth of the novel firmly in the frontal lobes of a character who views women as wretched trash. That's not fun in the slightest, and that's what knocks this down from a five-five: it's really well-written, but my enjoyment of this chunk of the book was drastically reduced.
Part five, with the final confrontations happening left and right, was kind of awesome. Completely over the top in the way a novel about a guy sprouting horns should be, but it also had Hill revealing his characters' tender underbellies that made them that much more compelling. He makes Ig into a guy, not the greatest or worst guy who ever lived, but a guy who had something beautiful in his life (the love he shared with Merrin) ripped away, a guy trying to move on from that. A guy who does dumbass things but it ultimately a pretty decent human being, horns and all. I love reading books with protagonists who are not necessarily Heroes-with-a-capital-H but who are fundamentally decent, no matter what the surface bullshit might be sometimes.