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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What I'm Reading: NOS4A2

As you all know, I LOVE Joe Hill.  Click here to see some of the love.  I even went so far as to proclaim his as the new "King of Horror" in my book.  Look when you publish your love of a writer in a book, that people have to pay for, that is some serious love. Well, after reading his brand new, huge (just under 700 pages), horror opus NOS4A2, I can honestly say I made the right call.

While Joe Hill's previous novels have been a bit of a genre blend, NOS4A2 is pure horror.  And it is brilliantly executed at that.

Here is a brief overview.  The story is focused around the villain, Charlie Manx and the hero, Victoria McQueen, aka Vic.  The book bounces around in time, although each section is clearly marked, but the point is the eventual epic battle between Vic and Manx.  Vic and Manx are among the few people out in the world who have access to the "inscape."  It is described by Maggie, an Iowa librarian who also has an inscape thusly:
“Everyone lives in two worlds,” Maggie said, speaking in an absent-minded way while she studied her letters. “There’s the real world, with all its annoying facts and rules. In the real world there are things that are true and things that aren’t. Mostly the real world s-s-s-suh-sucks. But everyone also lives in the world inside their own head. An inscape, a world of thought. In a world made of thought—in an inscape--every idea is a fact. Emotions are as real as gravity. Dreams are as powerful as history. Creative people, like writers, and Henry Rollins, spend a lot of their time hanging out in their thoughtworld. S-s-strong creatives, though, can use a knife to cut the stitches between the two worlds, can bring them together. Your bike. My tiles. Those are our knives.”
Manx's inscape is a world called Christmasland.  For over 100 years he has been driving his 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith with the license plate NOS4A2 and collecting children he thinks are in an abusive family situation, kidnapping them, killing the problem parent, and taking them to Christmasland. There he preserves them outside of time in a world run by children where every day is Christmas. On the trip, he sucks out their youth to preserve himself.  Manx is a very bad dude.

Vic's inscape is a bridge that appears when she needs to find something.  As a teen, she finds Manx and manages to be the only child to ever escape from him. But having an inscape and accessing it takes a toll on the health and sanity of those who experience it.

This idea of the inscape is weaved into the novel in a very convincing fashion. I believed these worlds between reality and what is in our heads were really just below the surface of all people.  The inscapes felt chillingly real.  As a result, NOS4A2 has a very strong world building appeal.  It did remind me of the setting Hill created in Horns, where I was totally buying the fact that Ig could be turning into the devil.  Click here for details

That's the set up; what follows then is all about Manx and Vic and their inevitable final show down.  This is an epic story of good vs. evil.  Well, Vic is not all good.  She has some serious flaws, but her heart is in the right place.

This is also a long book and there are parts during the middle where some people say it drags a bit.  I disagree because while there are definitely parts that move faster than others, everything that happens in the book is there for a reason.  It all pays off in the end.

Further appeal considerations:  As usual, Hill is a master at setting up the unease from the very first lines.  The prologue is perfect.  We are introduced to Manx in a horribly tense and terrifying moment in a hospital.  But lots of thriller and horror writers can write a scary prologue, Hill is great because he keeps the unease going throughout the entire novel.  Besides the traditional ways of setting up unease by having sections in which the time frame abruptly switches and with a fluid shifting of points of view, he also does AWESOME thing like having some chapters end mid-sentence and leave you hanging, only to find the sentence completed in the title of the next chapter.  Talk about unease.

And, the entire idea of Christmasland as an evil place is so unsettling.  It plays with all of your preconceived notions of the innocence of Christmas and adds a level of dread to the book that is very satisfying.

And, please, please, please read every single page of this book, including after the acknowledgements in the "Notes on the Type."  The story does not end until the last page with text on it.  That was one of the coolest things I ever experienced in reading a novel.  The shock of finding the ending after I thought the ending was already behind me was great.  It was so clever and fun by Hill to do this, but now, no one can ever do it again without being accused of copying him.

Speaking of the ending, this is true modern horror.  No one is safe and the evil cannot be completely vanquished. 

NOS4A2 also features excellent secondary characters, a well rounded female protagonist who does not want or need anyone to come to her rescue, and plenty of action scenes.

Read this book if you like PG 13 rated horror or thrillers.  This is a great summer read, especially on a hot day as the climax happens in the chilly world of Christmasland.  There is action, drama, compelling characters, evil villains, and a satisfying conclusion. Don't be surprised if you find yourself, as I did, ignoring everyone and everything in your life to follow Vic on her quest to vanquish the seemingly immortal Manx.

The few short days I spent reading NOS4A2 was one of the best reading experiences I have had in a while.

Three Words That Describe This Book: suspenseful, original, chillingly real

Readalikes: NOS4A2 is a classic horror story.  Joe Hill said he felt like he was earning his thesis in horror by writing this novel.  I think he gets an A+.  So some of the readalikes here are some other benchmark horror titles.

Classic, fat horror book Stephen King titles will appeal here.  I would especially suggest It which also takes childhood fun (a clown) and makes it terrifying.  Also, the town from It, Derry Maine is mentioned in passing in NOS4A2; that is a fun aside in the story for those in the know.

Jonathan Maberry's classic horror Pine Deep Trilogy is in 3 books but is actually one giant story.  Click here to read more about that awesome tale or terror.  It shares many appeal factors with NOS4A2 including the strong characterization, the chillingly real storyline, and the solid world building of the supernatural invading the regular world.

The more Hill writes, the more he seems to be a better readalike for Neil Gaiman.  Both writers create anxious atmospheres and dark fantasy worlds with thought provoking plots using a literary fiction writing style.  If you loved American Gods or The Graveyard Book you will enjoy NOS4A2.

Neverland by Douglass Clegg is a horror classic that also deals with family dynamics and has a child narrator (Vic's son plays a huge part in the Hill novel).  This is an older title (early 90s) but it still stands up to today's readers.

Probably the best all around readalike for NOS4A2 is the Ramsey Campbell classic horror novel, Silent Children.  Here a man, like Manx, decides it is his job to take children away from their imperfect parents.

Kin by Kealan Patrick Burke which I reviewed here is about a girl who is abducted and raped, but it is also about the family that kidnapped her.  Click here for more.  Kin is a bit more violent than NOS4A2 but they are both emotionally wrenching and give us a peak into the evil soul of humanity.

Finally a readalike I was not previously familiar with-- Florence and Giles by John Harding.  I found this one while poking around on NoveList for other books that are also described as creepy and suspenseful with the subjects of good vs evil and supernatural. Florence and Giles is well liked on Goodreads, has neglected children, a troubled female protagonist, and a New England setting.  It has a 19th Century setting a a more Gothic tone, but I figure it is worth a try.

1 comment:

Douglas said...

Great review!

I love the play on calling him the new ""King" of Horror."

The problem I had with NOS4A2 is probably just a problem Joe Hill has - his first two outings were so strong, I was just expecting more with this novel. Something just felt wrong here - the plot, though obscure and unique, was somewhat predictable, and the ending was a little flat (though I have the e-book version and don't therefore have the "notes on type" piece - so I will have to look into that! - thanks for the heads up!).

I am looking forward to the Horns movie being made!

My own review (less in depth than what you type) is at thedorkportal.blogspot.com if you care to check that out.