The Nerd’s been down with everything Joe Hill’s put out thus far. 20th Century Ghosts, Heart-Shaped Box, Horns, the comic series Locke & Key – guy writes shit I wanna read. But when I saw that his latest, NOS4A2, was seven-hundred pages long? That shit gave me some serious fucking pause. I mean, much like his famous father (the King with the first name of Stephen), guy writes horror novels, hence making comparisons unenviably inevitable but seven-hundred fucking pages? Did King Junior suddenly find himself in his father’s lofty quagmire, stuck with editors who were afraid to trim down the work of their size-able meal ticket? Was he just gonna waste my time with a story that could easily have been half its length?
Well, while it’s definitely a shade too long (unless it’s Executioner’s Song or Lonesome Dove, nothing *really* needs to be over five hundred pages), NOS4A2 is also Hill’s best novel to date.
The novel starts with our hero Vic McQueen as a young girl who finds that she has a supernatural bicycle. When she rides it while thinking of a lost item a covered bridge appears and takes her to the object’s location. Eventually her excursions bring her across a fellow traveler of hidden roads named Charlie Manx, a creepy old shithead whose Rolls Royce (with the license plate of, well, you can figure it out) can take him all the way to a place in his mind called Christmasland. In order to keep living, though, he needs to store children he kidnaps in this imaginary winter wonderland in order to feed off of their youth. As a teenager Vic was able to defeat Manx and get him taken to prison away from his Rolls Royce “inscape,” but years later he escapes and is out to feed once more, this time on Vic’s young son.
It’s a fantastic premise that only gets more complex and exciting in its details as it goes along. Hell, Hill could easily do numerous novels about other characters we haven’t even met yet and their respective “inscapes” and the capabilities of said “inscapes.” (Okay, I’ll stop with the quotations around that word from now on, I’m getting annoyed with it myself.) Hill also has a way with period specific ephemera that really grounds the world and its characters, from Vic’s son’s obsession with his DS to her husband’s love of cos-play chicks and suicide girls to the Gasmask Man’s finding an ad for Christmasland in the back of an old men’s magazine. Speaking of the Gasmask Man, he’s easily my favorite character in the novel, a dull-witted toady who rapes and murders the mothers of Manx’s victims after dosing them with sevoflurane gas. He’s a detestable piece of shit yet I felt genuinely bad for him when shit didn’t go his way, mainly because of his child-like innocence and belief in Manx.
Manx is also worthy of some of our empathy as well, a man who may be using kids for his own immortality but genuinely wants them to be happy forever in the imaginary world he has created. But then those shades of gray given to our characters is what makes the novel such a success: even the villains in NOS4A2 are worthy of our understanding. That’s what all art should be striving for in the Nerd’s opinion but, you know, ain’t always the way.
So yeah, the Nerd definitely advises that you get hip to NOS4A2 toot-sweet. It’s a big fat doorstop of a fucking novel, but it’s the summer and you know you’ve got the time. The Nerd promises that in the end you’ll be glad you maxed out your arm strength giving this beast a read.