When I started this book, I was pretty sure it would be between a 4 & 5 star read for me. I read Horns a year or two ago and loved Joe Hill's writing, and I was really enjoying the first half or so of this one. And honestly, my docking a star (I think I would have given this 4 stars) is possibly petty. But it is what it is, and I don't really feel guilty for it.
I really liked the premise for this story, and it started off strong. Aging rock star buys a ghost off the internet and creepy things start happening? Yes, please! It sounded like something I would love, and I did love most of the basic story. I was also pleasantly surprised to find myself actually a bit scared a few times while reading this, which doesn't happen often for me.
The slowly building sense of dread was great and hooked me early on, but at some point started to lose me. I think it was after the first dog was killed, which I'll rant about more in the next spoiler tag. Killing off an animal, on the page and in great detail, is a sure way to piss me off, end the immersion, and start making me resent the story. It started to grab me again a little while later, only to lose me for most of the rest of the book. I might have the times of these two confused, but it lost me again when the abuse of Anna and Reese came out. At that point, I just wanted the book to end, but it felt like it was going to drag on forever. Then we learned that the second dog died in way that pissed me the hell off and I would have thrown the book if it hadn't been on my Kindle. I've never been in a horror novel, but in my real life, I don't think anything except be literally being physically incapable because of death or restraints, would keep me from immediately seeking medical attention for my fucking dog after it's hind legs have been crushed by another car and the fucking bone is sticking out and the dog is bleeding to death slowly and suffering. (I don't actually have dogs, I have cats, but if I had a dog...) I kind of regained a little interest in the story, minus the sense of dread, in the last few chapters. The bit about the door, then Jude waking up in the hospital and finding out Marybeth was still alive. But by then, I was just ready for the book to be over. I liked the ending, though. I really liked Marybeth and was happy she lived. I was also glad to learn that Reese's mother was locked up and Reese seemed to be free of her, and didn't know the whoel story of all the things her mother had done.
And here the rant, which gets somewhat off topic of the book, begins. I am sick, so freaking sick, of horror movies and stories and novels abusing and killing animals. For me, at least, that isn't horror. It's just there for the fucking shock value and playing with people's emotions, and I'm so tired of it. I'm tired of child abuse and sexual assault, too. I can't actually think of any horror novels I've read that didn't have one of those things. If your horror needs a woman and/or child being abused/raped/assaulted, or animals being abused or killed, you're not doing your fucking job as a horror creator. I probably wouldn't be so mad about this if it wasn't so prevalent, but it's such a disgusting trope now, and I'm tired of it.
In my opinion, those tropes are the book equivalent of horror movies relying on jump scares or gore.
I don't think I would have a problem with a character finding a dead animal, like left as a threat or something. Hell, even an animal dying in the book wouldn't be so bad (and by "bad," I don't mean "scary") if the writers weren't constantly going for in depth descriptions of how much the animal is/was suffering, and all the details of how horrific their mutilation was, etc.
The same is true for survivors of whatever form of abuse. I'm just tired of it. I'm tired of these characters with awful, abuse-filled pasts, like "Look! This character survived all these terrible things, but they get to go through even more terrible things as a reward!" As an abuse survivor, I'm not impressed, I'm not amused, I'm just pissed off. I'm lucky in the way that I can read most of this without crossing into being triggered by it. It does happen sometimes, but I'm usually ok. But I'm so tired of trying to find horror and thriller books to recommend to friends, and having to warn them to not read 99% of the ones I find because I don't want them to be triggered by the detailed descriptions of the types of abuse and assault they survived.
Do I think authors should censor themselves and not write about these things? No. I do think it's become too pervasive in the horror and thriller genres, though. It's like the slasher movies that just wouldn't stop coming. Eventually, people started to get tired of them because that's almost all that was out there. Or the YA books about vampires, or dystopians. There were big jumps in the number of those books, or in the popularity of them, for a while. Interest hasn't totally dropped off, of course, but it did seem to decline after a while because people were getting tired of reading the same things over and over.
Maybe I've just been unlucky and actually most of the horror and thriller books out there don't have these elements at all. I doubt that, though, because most of the people I've talked about this with have felt the same way, and have read more of these books than I have.
I think this was Joe Hill's first novel. I'm pretty sure that before this, he'd had short stories published, but nothing this long. As a first novel, it's very well-written. His characters are great, the scary bits are scary, he did a good job with creating a creepy atmosphere, etc. I just had issues with it which might not bother most other people. I doubt my reviews on here influence people's decisions to read/skip a book, but if they do, don't let my less-than-thrilled feelings stop you from reading it if you think you'll like it. It is, mostly, a good book, and it is scary at times.
Will I continue to read Joe Hill? Heck yeah. He is a talented writer, and I want to know what else he comes up with. Although if I keep coming across the use of abuse/assault/etc., I'll probably stop reading his books eventually, because, as I said, I'm sick of it being in basically every horror/thriller I read.</spoiler