NOS4A2 by Joe Hill-- A Book Review
NOS4A2 is the newest novel by author Joe Hill. Mr. Hill, if you have been living under a rock for the past few years, is the son of one of the most well-known authors in the world, Stephen King. The King family has now produced four separate novelists: Stephen, wife Tabitha King, and sons Owen King and Joe Hill. Writing, it seems, runs in the blood.
NOS4A2 refers to the license plate of the haunted vehicle that is featured in the novel, but it is also a clever play on words. NOS4A2. "Nosferatu". Get it?
This is a book about vampires. No big surprise coming from the son of America's resident boogeyman, but these are not your ordinary vampires. The book's main antagonist, Charlie Manx, is a psychic vampire, and his car, a 1938 Wraith, runs on human souls. With the help of a demented Renfield named Bing Partridge, who takes care of the pesky adults in a very grisly, un-Christmasy fashion, these two roam the highways and byways of the United States, abducting children and taking them to "Christmasland", where their souls are drained from their bodies and they become terrible revenants who call their killer Daddy.
Enter Vic McQueen, nicknamed the Brat, a troubled young woman who can travel places on her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike through a chimerical covered bridge called the Shorter Way. Vic's ability is sort of a psychic power, and not dissimilar from Charlie Manx's ability to go to Christmasland via his 1938 Wraith. When she has a fight with her mother after their family is deserted by her father, Vic rides out looking for trouble, and the Shorter Way Bridge (which has helped her find many lost items in the past) delivers her to the residence of Charlie Manx, the Sleighhouse.
Hill's prose in NOS4A2 is clear and descriptive, though at times it can seem a little stilted. I'm not sure if that was the editing, or a product of Hill's relative youthfulness, his craft not quite honed to perfection yet, but it is noticeable in a few passages. However, I was impressed in several places by the way he turned a phrase or used a particularly evocative metaphor.
"...there was something awful about Christmas music when it was nearly summer. It was like a clown in the rain, with his makeup running."
That, to me, set the tone perfectly.
The book is easy to read and keeps your interest, although I do have a couple of gripes with Mr. Hill's work in general. Hill tends to populate his fiction with somewhat unsympathetic characters. There are rarely any "heroes" in his fiction, as even his protagonists have some serious personality flaws that can strain the reader's sympathy for them. Vic McQueen is brave and self-determined and moral, but she is also portrayed as a alcoholic bad mother who has mixed feelings about her son and boyfriend, which, although it makes her a believable character, also makes her slightly unlikeable. I don't think there is a single character in his fiction whom he hasn't snuck up behind as a writer and lifted their skirt so everyone can see their dirty business, and I think it hurts his work a little. NOS4A2 is also about 200 pages too long, a tendency he shares with his father, whose works can (and I believe have) been used to club people to death with.
Overall, Hill is a good writer. I won't say he is a better or worse writer than his father because that is like comparing children. They're both special in their own way. But if you enjoy a good horror story every now and then, you can't go wrong picking up this lengthy novel. Hill has the gift of storytelling, just like his celebrated dad.
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