NOS4A2 – Joe Hill

About the Book

DON’T SLOW DOWN

Victoria McQueen has an uncanny knack for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. When she rides her bicycle over the rickety old covered bridge in the woods near her house, she always emerges in the places she needs to be. Vic doesn’t tell anyone about her unusual ability, because she knows no one will believe her. She has trouble understanding it herself.

Charles Talent Manx has a gift of his own. He likes to take children for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the vanity plate NOS4A2. In the Wraith, he and his innocent guests can slip out of the everyday world and onto hidden roads that lead to an astonishing playground of amusements he calls Christmasland. Mile by mile, the journey across the highway of Charlie’s twisted imagination transforms his precious passengers, leaving them as terrifying and unstoppable as their benefactor.

And then comes the day when Vic goes looking for trouble… and finds her way, inevitably, to Charlie.

That was a lifetime ago. Now, the only kid ever to escape Charlie’s unmitigated evil is all grown up and desperate to forget.

But Charlie Manx hasn’t stopped thinking about the exceptional Victoria McQueen. On the road again, he won’t slow down until he’s taken his revenge. He’s after something very special – something Vic can never replace.

As a life-and-death battle of wills builds – her magic pitted against his – Vic McQueen prepares to destroy Charlie once and for all… or die trying…

692 pages (Hardcover)
Published on April 30, 2013
Author’s webpage

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It has to be kind of hard being the son of horror legend Stephen King. Whoever knows who Joe Hill’s father is, is inevitably going to compare the two. It is hard not to look at Joe Hill’s writing and look for signs of his father’s style. King is a giant. Whether you like horror, or fantasy, or not, everyone who knows what a book is, also knows who King is. That being said, Hill is 100% his own man, and there’s absolutely no reason for the shadow of his father to hang over him. Hill stands on his own, and NOS4A2 proves it proudly.

NOS4A2 is the first book by Hill that I’ve had the pleasure of reading, but I can guarantee you that it won’t be the last. Hill understands just how to work the horror genre. It’s not about things that go bump in the night. NOS4A2 is psychological in the extreme. While the situations are wacky and weird with a wonderful dark edge, the true pleasure of NOS4A2 is just how easily Hill works his way into your psyche without you even realizing it. It almost defines what a horror novel should be about, purely because Hill so easily makes the reader understand the driving forces behind every character’s actions. There are no “good guys” or “bad guys.” Hill blurs the line. Everyone lingers in varying shades of gray, to charcoal, and Hill truly makes you live through them. It’s scary, because while you read this book, you look through the eyes of people who do some truly despicable things, and the trippiest part? Hill makes you relate to them, no matter how appalling these characters, and their actions are.

NOS4A2 follows a few primary characters, with a few others thrown in occasionally for good measure. The main character who will automatically pull readers in is Vic, who has an interesting ability to find things. True to the rest of the novel, Vic isn’t a sparkling white and innocent protagonist. Vic has a few strikes against her. Her family life is rather dysfunctional. Getting kidnapped (kind of), doesn’t help. Getting calls from dead kids who live in Christmasland really doesn’t do anything good for her. Vic is a true mess. She’s an addict and she’s unstable. I wouldn’t want her for my next door neighbor, but that’s part of her beauty. She’s not the protagonist you’d expect, but it’s her overwhelming imperfections that makes it so incredibly easy to become absolutely engaged and enamored by her. She’s three-dimensional, frustrating, emotionally damaged, and probably one of the most engaging characters I’ve ever read about.

If Vic is the character that really serves to pull people into NOS4A2, in my opinion, it’s Bing (The Gasmask Man) who really pushes NOS4A2 into the horror section, even moreso than Charles Manx, who represents the ultimate evil, in many ways. Bing is a rather horrible person. In fact, even thinking about him makes my skin crawl. He’s rather mentally stunted, and Manx takes advantage of that to manipulate Bing. Bing does some pretty appalling things, but he does it with a righteous zeal. Hill does wonders with Bing, using him as a sort of mental gateway into the darkness and depravity of Manx. Bing, however, is the kind of character in horror novels that really gets me to love that novel. He’s an interesting mixture of innocent, misunderstood, and absolutely morally disgusting and Hill really gets into Bing’s head, and thus, into the reader’s head.

On the flip side, Manx is the sort of antagonist I love. He’s calm, calculating, and absolutely believes in what he’s doing without the overwhelming religious-like zeal that so many authors heap on their antagonists. He never has evil super-villain moments where he laughs and talks about taking over the world. He’s just some guy trying to do what he wants to do. He doesn’t believe he’s a bad person, and that’s the magic of him. He’s so absolutely realistic in that regard. He’s just your everyday guy who is a total asshole but he thinks he’s an angel. All of these factors pumped into one person makes him absolutely eerie and a wonderful balance to Vic and Bing.

NOS4A2 takes some time to really get going. A lot of the novel is buildup for the grand finale (which takes up a good chunk of the last half of the book). When books take a long time getting to the meat of the matter, I usually lose interest. That being said, NOS4A2 doesn’t read like other novels. Each character is so amazingly, intensely flawed that even the buildup portions of the novel are absolutely fascinating. There’s a lot of history that goes into telling how all of these characters confront each other, and the reasons why their confrontation is so incredibly intense and emotional. Hill takes the proper amount of time developing this backstory, but it’s all so interesting that your attention will never wane. Each character is kind of their own personal horror story playing an important role in the greater horror of NOS4A2. Then, when the action really gets going, Hill takes off at an incredible pace almost without warning. There’s no time to sit back and breath. NOS4A2 takes off, and it pulls you with it.

I could go on for days in this review, but I should cut it here because I’ve probably said enough to establish my absolute love of this book. NOS4A2 was everything I expected, and more. Hill painstakingly created some of the most horrific, flawed, absolutely engaging characters I’ve ever read. This book is a wonderful mixture of reality with a nice hint of the fantastic, and a pop of brutal head-case action. NOS4A2 is one of those novels that fans of dark, twisted, and psychological books will love. Hill isn’t shy about anything and I loved his candor. NOS4A2 is warped and violent. It’s everything I wanted plus some. One final thing I can promise you: You’ll never think of Christmas the same again.

 

5/5 stars

2 Responses

  • So glad to see you enjoyed the book, Sarah. Joe’s writing comes across pretty straight-forward, but with that dense sensibility that much more lies under the surface.

    Not sure how much of a comic book reader you are, but he wrote a ‘prequel’ which will be publishing in a month or two:
    Joe Hill Invites You To a Holiday Party In Christmasland

    Reply
    • You know, his writing really was wonderful. You’re right, it’s simple, but there’s enough substance and depth there to really make NOS4A2 a wonderful headcase.

      As for comic books, I can’t get into them at all. My husband loves the things, so I might point them out to him.

      Reply

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