Chapters 1-2 Summary

Ignatius Martin Perrish was very hung over after a night of drunken debauchery. He made his way to the bathroom where he began to rub his head. His fingers found two surprising growths on his head: horns. Upon seeing his reflection, he accidentally urinated on himself. 

Last night, the drunken Ig had found himself in the woods, visiting the site where his deceased girlfriend, Merrin Williams, had been brutally murdered. The tree where her body was found was decorated with religious ornaments and other paraphernalia; the religious pieces offended Ig’s sensibilities. Now, standing in his bathroom, Ig feels sure that the horns are a sign of his own impending death. The horns are small, and appear to be roughly the same color as his skin; they are sensitive to the touch. There is no logical way he could have grown horns, so he believes he must have a brain tumor that is causing him to see things. To test his theory out, he heads to the living room, where he finds his current girlfriend, Glenna Nicholson, watching trashy daytime talk shows. Concerned about his own state of mind, Ig decides not to ask Glenna directly, but instead see if she notices the horns as well. Glenna appears to have other things on her mind. She has a box of stale doughnuts in front of her and keeps asking Ig if she should eat more. Like Ig, she is terribly hung over and feeling nauseous. When Ig inquires why she would do this, Glenna says she wants to get fat and make herself sick as a punishment. She tells Ig that she needs to make a confession. At dinner the previous night, Ig had gone to the men’s room and not returned for a long time in an effort to ditch Glenna. When he returned, she was gone. She reveals that during his long absence, she ran into Lee Tourneau, one of Ig’s old friends. Lee and Glenna used to date, and quickly began to rekindle old feelings. Lee took Glenna out to the parking lot where she performed oral sex on him in full view of other patrons.

Glenna is filled with guilt, particularly in light of all of the suffering Ig has endured. To make matters worse, she also mentions that people talk about Ig behind his back. It is clear from her description and his distant friendship with Lee that many suspect Ig in Merrin’s death. Glenna continues to eat the doughnuts, and even seems to swallow a fly in the process, further adding to Ig’s disgust with her. Ig encourages her to keep eating, and edges out of the apartment to get away from her and to find a doctor.

Chapters 3-4 Summary

Ig drives to the local clinic and finds the waiting room very busy, with a young girl screaming her head off. The television is showing the same tawdry talk show that Glenna was watching at home. Once again, Ig nervously awaits people to notice his horns. When Ig walks up to the receptionist, she notices the horns but does not seem to find them out of the ordinary. As she checks him in, she confides that she secretly would like to yell at the mother of the screaming girl to control her child. She asks Ig’s opinion, but he declines to offer one. The only seat available to Ig is right next to the mother of the little girl. The mother apologizes for the racket and briefly touches Ig’s arm. A rush of information about the woman comes to Ig in an instant: her name is Allie, she isn’t especially fond of her daughter, and she is having an affair with her golf instructor. Much like the receptionist, Allie confides in Ig that she’d like to beat her daughter for misbehaving, but wonders what the other people in the waiting area would think. She too asks Ig for his opinion, and casually tells him about her affair with Michael, an African-American tennis instructor. The receptionist again tells Ig she wants to say something; this time, Ig encourages her and feels a strange heat in his horns. As soon as he gives the okay, the receptionist uses a variety of four-letter words to tell Allie to take her daughter outside. As Allie and the receptionist launch into a high-decibel screaming match, Allie’s daughter tries to run away and falls, scraping up her knees. The adults take no notice and keep arguing, so Ig helps her up. He instantly knows that her name is Marcia, and the girl confides that she wants to burn her mother up in her bed. 

As Ig heads in to see the doctor, a nurse confides in him about her anger at her ex. When the doctor finally sees him, he too seems unalarmed by Ig’s horns. When they shake hands, Ig discovers the doctor has a sexual obsession with his daughter’s teenage friends. He then confesses to Ig that he’d like to snort some OxyContin. When Ig explains his concern that he’s having some kind of mental problem, the doctor reassures him that the horns are there. He tells Ig that while he notices the horns, he forgets them just as quickly. Ig begs him for help but the doctor continues to obsess about drugs and underage girls.

Chapters 5-6 Summary

Not sure where to go, Ig drives to the base of the Old Fair Road Bridge. He recalls his friendship with Lee Tourneau. When Merrin had been alive, the three of them has been inseparable. After Merrin’s murder, Lee slowly and discreetly began to distance himself from Ig until the friendship fully disintegrated. Lee worked for a senator, and his relationship with Ig could have compromised his job prospects. Ig also remembers his courtship with Merrin, and a particularly strange night in the place called the Tree House of the Mind. Ig had convinced himself that it was a hallucination, but Merrin remembered it the same way. Lost in thought, Ig doesn’t notice the police cruiser pulling up behind his car. It is driven by Sturtz, a beefy officer who has delighted in harassing Ig for petty violations since Merrin’s murder. Sturtz’s partner, Posada, joined him and soon the two began confessing their inner thoughts. Posada was a closeted homosexual who harbored a deep-seated attraction to Sturtz. Sturtz was an ardent homophobe who admitted that he wanted to plant evidence in Ig’s car to give him cause to arrest Ig. Testing his powers, Ig first suggests to Posada that he simply make a physical move on Sturtz, and tells him Sturtz must be returning his affections secretly. Next, Ig reinforces Sturtz’s violent anti-gay mentality. Unable to find anything to charge Ig with, the officers let him drive away. As he departs, he can see Posada put his head in his partner’s lap to make his move.

Everyone in the town of Gideon was convinced that Ig’s well-to-do parents had hired a fancy lawyer to get him exonerated of any charges related to Merrin’s death. Ig’s father had enjoyed some brief celebrity for his trumpeting skills. After playing on some of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra’s recordings, Ig’s father became a teacher at Berklee College of Music. Ig’s older brother Terry, followed in his father’s footsteps musically while Ig was unable...

(The entire section is 567 words.)

Chapters 7-8 Summary

Ig didn’t necessarily want to go visit his parents, but he wasn’t sure where else to go. Heading to his old house reminded him of the night Merrin’s body had been found and he’d been brought in for questioning. His parents had been ready to defend him fiercely, but Ig was saddened that they both seemed to assume that he was guilty. A formal case was never brought against Ig because the forensic evidence gathered from the scene of the crime had been destroyed shortly afterward in a lab fire. He had lived with his parents for nine months, however, they became increasingly distant as time went on (and the threat of his arrest evaporated). He had moved in with Glenna in part to get out of their house. As Ig pulls up to the house, he sees his grandmother asleep in her wheelchair at the top of the hill in front of his old house. He is touched by the sight of his grandmother and the memories seeing her brings back. He kisses her on the top of the head and gets an upsetting flash of information from her. Vera, Ig’s grandmother, thinks that he is guilty of the murder and is embarrassed to be seen with him. Moreover, she thinks there has been something wrong with Ig for a long time. She also believes that Ig’s mother, Lydia, had been a prostitute during her days in Las Vegas before landing her rich husband, Ig’s dad. Ig reels away from his grandmother and heads inside and finds his mother. When he unwittingly accesses her inner thoughts, he finds out that she favors Terry, Ig’s brother, and blames Ig for ruining her figure. She also hints that Vera’s version of her past might be true. Finally, she tells Ig that she wished he would go far away so she could be happy again. He complies and starts to leave.

Upstairs, Ig runs into his father, who also confesses his disappointment in and disgust for Ig. Ig’s dad seems particularly hung up on Merrin, whom he loved like a daughter. He feels guilty for covering up his son’s crime when he loved her so much more than Ig. Ig’s dad confesses that his friend Gene worked at the lab where the fire happened. He had done some big favors for Gene, and assumed Gene had started the fire as a kind of repayment. Ig is angry because he believes the evidence would have exonerated him. His dad also thinks Ig is guilty and has long been capable of crimes.

Chapters 9-10 Summary

Ig had originally gone upstairs to look for any stuff that was his and take it with him. When he gets to his room, the first thing that he finds is his trumpet case. Long after it had been clear that asthma would keep Ig from playing like his father and brother, Ig used to continue practicing silently in his room. He didn’t dare use his full breath or else he’d risk passing out from oxygen deprivation. Ig remembers all of this bitterly and empties the trumpet case to use it as a makeshift suitcase. He pulls out the foam casing for the trumpet to maximize the space. He throws in some clothes and a passport, which he finds inside of a bible. He also notices the bible contains an attempt at the Morse code, which he intended to master to write a secret message to Merrin. After he packs up what he wants, he heads out of the house, trying to sneak out of the house to avoid running into anyone in his family. Stopping by the kitchen for a drink, he runs directly into Terry.

Terry looks worse for wear; he is either jet-lagged or suffering from allergies. Terry is allergic to so many environmental things: pollen, peanut butter, and bees. Terry announces his intention to tell Ig something and Ig braces himself for something upsetting like what his parents told him in their “private” confessions. Ig is surprised to find out how badly Terry feels for Ig. Terry had stood by his brother’s innocence, even when it wasn’t convenient for his Hollywood career. Terry admitted that he had nothing to do with Merrin’s murder. Ig is initially relieved because he did not think his brother had anything to do it. The real revelation comes when Terry says

that he knows that Lee Tourneau killed Merrin. Terry is obviously guilty, and says Lee forced him to remain silent. A reeling Ig runs from the house in a rage. His horns ablaze, he fixes his anger on his bigoted grandmother, Vera. He unlocks the brakes on her wheelchair and sends her careening down the hill. Ig’s horns are throbbing and he feels a combination of pleasure and pain. As she goes rolling down the hill, Ig makes his way to his car, a 1972 Gremlin that felt like the only home that he had left. While his grandmother smashes into a fence at a high speed, he feels incredibly satisfied and heads out.

Chapters 11-12 Summary

Ig first met Merrin when he was fifteen years old, in church during one of Father Mould’s sermons. As he and his family sit listening, Ig feels a light flashing in the corner of his eyes. When it persists, he finds that the light is coming from across the aisle. A pretty, redheaded girl is using the cross necklace she is wearing to flash light in his eyes. Ig notices a pattern to it and Ig’s father, Derrick, suggests she might be using Morse code. Ig and the redhead continued to exchange flirtatious glances until the girl’s necklace accidentally breaks. Another teenage boy standing directly behind her attempts to fix it, but the girl pulls away from him. The boy is obviously interested in her, but her father makes himself a...

(The entire section is 530 words.)

Chapters 13-14 Summary

While Ig is underwater he feels like he’s in another world. He is sure that he’s either dead or dying and feels there are souls everywhere but that he is too far away from God. Before he knows it, he is dragged upwards and laid on the beach. Someone slaps him soundly on the back and coughs up a lot of river water. Ig initially assumes his brother is the one who saved him, but is surprised to find out it was Lee. Ig’s face is throbbing with pain and blood is running down his face; he has broken his nose. Terry, Eric, and the others make their way down to the riverbed and Terry also thanks Lee. Lee tries desperately to downplay his bravery, but Terry and Ig want to invite him over to the house to tell their parents that he saved Ig’s life. Eric is worried about his parents finding out, so Lee declines. Ig asks if Lee will come by the house some time and Terry promises to come up with a good excuse for Ig’s bloody face. 

A few days later, Lee comes by the house while Terry and Ig’s parents are out. It’s raining, and Lee is soaked from head to toe. Lee is selling magazines for charity, so Ig agrees to buy all his remaining ones. Ig is fascinated by Lee and feels a strong need to find some way to thank him for saving Ig’s life. When they go up to Ig’s room, Ig asks Lee about music and is surprised by how little Lee has heard of. When Lee mentions how expensive CDs are, it occurs to Ig that Lee might be poor. He imagines Lee living with his single father in a trailer park. Lee asks Ig if he has any porn, noting that the magazine seller he works with has a variety of specialty adult magazines. Lee mentions that he has been experimenting sexually with Glenna, even though he doesn’t really seem to like her. Lee sees the broken necklace and asks about it. He tells Ig he can fix it and Ig feels obligated to give it to him, even though Ig wants it (and the girl) for himself. Lee confesses that he has an attraction to the redhead, in part because he thinks she’s a virgin. When Lee leaves, Terry returns with the cherry bomb that was payment for Ig’s shopping cart stunt. He and Ig make plans to blow something up with it at the end of the summer.

Chapters 15-16 Summary

Ig goes to church the following week feeling incredibly nervous. He is anxious to see the redheaded girl and is also nervous about what Lee will do. As much as he feels indebted to Lee, he wants to be the one to give the necklace back to the girl. Ig spots Lee in church and is shocked to find him wearing the necklace. He and Lee both search the sanctuary but do not see the girl. Lee and Ig exchange silent glances wondering where the girl went. After the service is over, Ig notices some of the older women who were seated with the redheaded girl last week. He finds out her name is Merrin, and her family is moving to town; she most likely will be in church next week. Ig is excited, but unsure of what to tell Lee (or if he should tell...

(The entire section is 418 words.)

Chapters 17-18 Summary

Lydia takes her sons to the barber shop to get haircuts. While Lydia is providing detailed instructions to the barber for Terry’s haircut, Ig sees Glenna outside. Glenna writes suggestively in the condensation on the window, and Ig goes out to see her. Ig is surprised to find out that Glenna knows a lot about his friendship with Lee. Glenna is especially interested in the cross and who it belongs to; she seems aware that Lee might be infatuated with this mysterious girl in church. Glenna laughs at the fact that Ig thinks Lee is poor; she tells him he lives in Harmon Gates, an upper-middle class subdivision. He also hints that Lee’s subscription charity may not be everything it seems. Glenna tells Ig that Lee is obsessed with...

(The entire section is 424 words.)

Chapters 19-20 Summary

The girl, whose name he learned was Merrin Williams, is indeed in church the next day. Ig gets her attention using the cross to reflect the sun in her eyes, just as she did the first Sunday they met. Once he has her attention, Ig and Merrin take turns avoiding the other’s glances. If one stares, the other tries to appear fully invested in the church service. At the end of the service, Merrin seems to be on the verge of getting away but gestures covertly to a quiet corner of the church. Feigning a need to go to the bathroom, Ig waits for her at the appointed place. When she finally returns, he gives her the necklace back. He admits that Lee fixed it, and tells her Lee was the boy who tried to help her when it first broke. Merrin...

(The entire section is 625 words.)

Chapters 21-22 Summary

In the present day, Ig speeds away from his parents’ house wondering what damage he did to his grandmother or if he even killed her. He thinks it would be ironic if he killed the miserable Vera, so that he could finally become the killer everyone in Gideon thinks he is.

Wanting to be alone, he heads to the Pit, the bar he and Merrin visited the night she was murdered. As he pulls into the driveway of the bar, he remembers that night. Ig had been away for three weeks training for an Amnesty International job in London. He was set to fly out early the next morning, so this would be his last night with Merrin before a long separation. She seems distant when he first arrives, barely acknowledging his kiss. Unexpectedly,...

(The entire section is 617 words.)

Chapters 23-24 Summary

Ig drives up to the senator’s office where Lee worked. After Lee’s cherry bomb accident, he had turned his life around. He had found religion and regularly spoke at church and civic gatherings about his dark past and how God had helped him turn it around. Lee originally planned a career as a minister but dropped out when his mother became gravely ill. After she died, he got a bachelor’s degree and began to volunteer for the senator. He soon became one of the most important members of the team, helping him get re-elected. Ig recalled one fight between Merrin and Lee that came about when Lee helped the senator with some anti-abortion action. Lee took the criticism in stride and Merrin eventually dropped the subject. After...

(The entire section is 665 words.)

Chapters 25-26 Summary

For a moment after he wakes the next morning, Ig hoped that everything that had happened had been a horrible dream. When he realizes he still had horns and had slept in the furnace room of the abandoned foundry, he knew it wasn’t a dream. He hears cries from outside and starts to run, grabbing a pitchfork for protection. Three boys are tormenting a fourth, who has been stripped to his underwear. The leader of the group has pinned the boy down and burned his chest with a cigarette. One of the other two boys taunts him with a snake. The boys cut off the head of the snake with a pair of garden shears and then demand that the pinned boy suck the blood out of it. Ig, wielding the pitchfork, finally interrupts the torture session and...

(The entire section is 398 words.)

Chapters 27-28 Summary

Ig, figuring that his family is out visiting Vera at the hospital, decides to go to their house after his fight with Eric. He initially thinks the house is empty, but finds his brother sleeping fitfully in his bed. Ig grabs his brother’s arm to wake him and is bombarded with the truth of the night Merrin died. After Ig had gone to meet Merrin at the Pit, Lee and Terry go to an outdoor party. Riding in Lee’s car later, Terry is very high and sick feeling. Lee pulls the car up to the Pit and they see Merrin standing in the rain. She gets in and Terry offers her his jacket. She is upset about the break-up and Terry is at a loss about how to comfort her. Merrin is also fairly inebriated and asks Lee to pull over so she can be sick....

(The entire section is 470 words.)

Chapters 29-30 Summary

After speaking to the snakes, Ig sleeps again. His awoken by Lee, who attacks him with a wrench. Ig tries to escape, but the multiple blows and kicks leave him barely conscious. He is bleeding and several of his teeth have been knocked out. Lee drags him outside toward Evel Knievel hill. Lee tells Ig that no one at the senator’s office can remember Ig being there. In addition, Eric can’t remember the attack that left his face burned. Lee also mentions the distorted image of Ig on the surveillance video, but cannot figure out what it all means. Using his last bit of strength, Ig lunges at Lee. He attempts to strangle Lee and rips off Merrin’s cross necklace. Lee regains the upper hand and begins confessing, which confirms...

(The entire section is 471 words.)

Chapters 31-32 Summary

For the last few weeks of his her life, Lee tortures his mother. She is dying of kidney failure and suffers from dementia. To make her more uncomfortable and difficult to breathe, Lee turns off the air conditioner. It’s so hot that he walks around the house naked because it’s the only way he can stand the heat. He also feeds her salt water or drinks something cool right in front of her. When she has an accident in the bed, he frequently lets her sit in it. When his mother finally dies, Merrin is the first person Lee calls. Lee still harbors feelings for Merrin even after all her time with Ig. He thinks that she feels the same way, but feels duty-bound to Ig. Lee analyzes her every word and action and frequently sees what he...

(The entire section is 435 words.)

Chapters 33-34 Summary

When Lee arrives, he finds Merrin is not alone. Her mouthy roommate talks incessantly into her cell phone and occasionally inserts herself into Merrin and Lee’s conversation. Merrin begins to question Lee about Ig, wondering if he is interested in other women. Lee takes the opportunity to make it sounds like Ig looks at other women all the time. Merrin wonders if they will get married and whether he’ll philander out of boredom. She even admits that they have named their two unborn children. She also confides that one of her professors offered to set her up as his mistress in an apartment, which Lee is disgusted by. As they finish chatting, Lee notices that Merrin doesn’t look well. When he asks her about it, she brushes it...

(The entire section is 433 words.)

Chapters 35-36 Summary

When Lee’s mother was near death, her mind was mostly gone and her speech nonsense. One day near the end, however, she regains her faculties briefly. Early in the morning, Lee awakens to the sounds of movement from the other room. He makes his way to his mother’s bedroom and finds her phone off the hook. She is pulling at the cord in an unsuccessful attempt to pull the receiver up off the floor. When Lee asks her what she’s doing, she tells him she is making a call but will not say whom she is calling. She asks Lee why he keeps torturing her, even though she already knows the answer: he is testing his own power over the world around him. Then she tells Lee that he may have a handsome exterior, but he is empty on the inside....

(The entire section is 432 words.)

Chapters 37-38 Summary

When he comes to, Lee does not immediately see the cat. Instead, he gazes up at the sky: it looks like the moon might fall. In fact, the sky seemed to wave like a piece of fabric. Using his fingers, Lee reaches up and put the moon back in place. Lee notices he had grown much, much larger. He is no longer lying in the cornfield; he is up in the sky looking down on the town. He sees his father driving home with some beer as his passenger; Lee imagines driving him off the road with the flick of one of his fingers. He sees his houses and the houses around him and wonders what it would be like to simply wipe them all away with his hands. Looking down into the cornfield, Lee spots the cat. Lee is angry at the cat for tricking him, for...

(The entire section is 468 words.)

Chapters 39-40 Summary

The night of the murder, Lee is on edge. With Terry high and half out of it, he pulls up to The Pit hoping to see Merrin. When he sees her standing in the rain, he is relieved and ogles her in her wet clothes. When she gets in, he analyzes everything she says or does looking for signals. He is especially mad that Terry is with them and wishes he had taken him home before picking Merrin up. When Terry offers her his jacket, Lee’s inherent dislike of Terry intensifies. He still remembers Terry calling him a coward the first time they met, when Lee was trying to muster up the courage to mountain board down Evel Knievel hill. Now, Lee thinks Terry is already making the move on his brother’s ex-girlfriend less than an hour after...

(The entire section is 415 words.)

Chapters 41-42 Summary

When Ig catches a look at his own reflection in the water by the foundry, he hardly recognizes himself. His skin is red, but smooth and unblemished. His head is totally bald, as if cleanly shaven, but his goatee seems to have survived the fire. Ig cannot stop thinking about Merrin’s death and the terrible things that Lee did to her. He had seen it all when he had touched Lee and the images still haunt him. Taking his pitchfork, Ig searches for clothes on the grounds by the foundry and finds a few articles. He puts on short lace skirt, and uses a sock to cover his genitals. He completes the outfit with a dark trench coat, and heads down the river. On his way out, he spies Merrin’s necklace and puts it on. The police have...

(The entire section is 415 words.)

Chapters 43-44 Summary

Sitting in his room in the chimney, Ig reads a letter written to him by Merrin. He found it in the envelope with her mammogram results and other medical paperwork. The entire note is written in Morse code so it takes a long time for him to translate it. In the letter, she tells him that this is for him to read after she’s dead, although she’s not sure she wants him to see it even then. She has the form of cancer that her sister had. Over the course of months it takes her to write the Morse-code goodbye letter, the cancer metastasizes and spreads quickly. She has already decided that she is going to commit suicide because she doesn’t want to turn into the monster her sister became at the end of her life. Regan had a fiancé...

(The entire section is 590 words.)

Chapters 45-46 Summary

As Ig prepares for his fateful meeting with Lee, a car pulls into the Foundry lot much earlier than expected. At first, he worries that Lee was on the road when he called him, but then he sees that it’s Terry’s rental car. Ig is surprised to see Terry because he had used his mind control to tell him to go back to Hollywood. Ig gets in Terry’s car and Terry explains that he quit his job hosting the late night show. He hasn’t enjoyed his work since Merrin’s death. He was driving out of Gideon and toward Massachusetts when he heard a report about the burned car in the river. Away from town, he couldn’t remember why he’d been in such a hurry to leave, so he drove back, stopping at the foundry to see if he could find out...

(The entire section is 509 words.)

Chapters 47-48 Summary

Ig had laid a trap for Lee in the event that Lee would overtake him in their fight. He had placed one of the snakes in the chimney room with strict orders to strike an intruder. But Ig had forgotten about the trap until Terry started toward the room. Since Glenna’s phone is in there, Terry heads to the room to call Ig an ambulance. Ig tries to scream but finds he has no voice. Terry enters the room and the snake strikes him. Terry grapples with it and the snake gets in several more bites before Terry is able to kill it. Terry starts to lose consciousness and Ig knows he has little time before the venom kills Terry. In excruciating pain, Ig drags himself out of the foundry and sets himself on fire. On his way out, Ig can finally...

(The entire section is 418 words.)

Chapters 49-50 Summary

Ig follows a trail cut by the fire that leads to a cherry tree, taking Terry’s horn in tow. The tree is surrounded by fire, but Ig walks through it and climbs the tree. As he does so, the first few emergency vehicles make their way onto the foundry grounds. One veteran fireman is sure he could see the shadow of a devil. Ig sees that the treehouse is at the top and it sounds as though there is a wedding celebration inside. He enters and kisses his fiery bride.

A few months later, Terry comes back to Gideon for a visit. He tells the police his version of the story: he came upon Lee and Eric trying to cover up evidence of their murder of Ig and they locked him in the room with the snake and then turned on each other....

(The entire section is 420 words.)