Thursday, March 25, 2010

Joe Hill's new one is good

I started the new Joe Hill scary book last night and I will likely finish it today. He's no one hit wonder, although anyone who has read his short stories or his graphic novel work is probably wise to that already. The new is called Horns and the weirdness starts on page one where Ig Parrish, who drank too much the night to forget the anniversary of his girlfriends murder the year before, wakes up to find that he grew a pair of diablolical horns overnight. Seeking help, he quickly finds, to his dismay that everyone with whom he speaks reveals their darkest and basest thoughts and look to him to see if they should go through with it.

When you find a good horror book, an all too rare occurrence, you should savor it. It isn't totally clear to me what makes a good one though. I would suggest a few things that might help identify them.

The judicious use of violence. I can't imagine a horror novel without violence, whether it be physical or psychological, but there are plenty of authors that paraphrase Twain and seem to think that too much violence is not enough. In my view, if a horror book has too much violence, it quickly becomes a comic story and loses its impact. A few small acts, whether anticipated, or dwelled upon are much more effective and often much more shocking.

Strong characters. Not a huge surprise, who doesn't like strong characters? Also, there is the obvious benefit of sympathizing with the hero(es) and with admiring a particularly well made villain. More importantly, I think it goes a long way to increasing the believability of the story. The Torrances make the Shining. Without them it would be a decent ghost story.

Social criticism. If spy novels are about betrayal and crime novels are about power, horror novels are about human behavior. The better ones deal with the bad behavior of everyday people. Sure, a serial killer or psychopath is scary, but few are ever going to meet one. Novels that show how close regular folks are to cruelty are much more disturbing. King's best work emphasizes the nastiness behind the smiles of people.

Citizen Reader asked for horror suggestions on her blog and the readers delivered. Check the comments.

No comments: