Thee Avid Reader #2: Joe Hill’s NOS4A2

image courtesy of amazon

Wow. Just wow.

THEN – Although I still have not read Joe Hill’s debut, the anthology 20th Century Ghosts, I’ve read and loved both Horns and Heart-Shaped Box, the latter being one of the best modern horror novels I know of. I was late getting into Mr. Hill, had in fact somehow kept him perpetually on ‘The List’ despite several friends’ rabid recommendations/threats to “Get to it already!”. This continued until an advance reader copy of Horns fell into my lap sometime around 2009/2010. I loved that book and considered it quite different than anything else I’d ever read. In a pinch the closest comparison I could come up with was Palahniuk, not for the rhythm or perverse obscure knowledge but for the tone. However comparisons can be dodgy, and I’d never want to do Mr. Hill a disservice by branding his book with one that wouldn’t really represent his deftly wrought tale of love and loss, regret and revenge and of course that creepy, creepy extra-sensory awkwardness that in different ways claims both Ig and Lee in the book.

Fast-forward two years and I worked my way to Heart-Shaped Box, which from about page one grabbed me by the brain and refused to let go. All my Hill-ite friends smiled smugly and reveled in the “We told you so’s” about this one and it was upon finishing Heart-Shaped Box that I did something that I pretty much never do: I read the final page, closed the book and didn’t pick up another one for a day or two. You see, even after it ended I continued to revel in the absolute eeriness the story of Craddock McDermott and Judas Coyne had left draped over my thoughts, a clinging fog on the ass end of midnight. That was a rarity for me, as I have such a large pile and so many books and authors on ‘the list’ – coupled with a voracious appetite for reading – that normally I finish one book and go straight to the next.

Yes, it’s that good. And then I found Locke and Key, but that’s a whole ‘nother story I’ve planned for a future edition of Thee Comic Column.

NOW – A few weeks ago an advance reader copy of Mr. Hill’s new book NOS4A2 (out on April 30th via the William Morrow and Co. imprint under Harper Collins) fell into my lap. I had no idea this was even in the pipes, so this was a VERY sweet surprise, and once again from page one Mr. Hill had my brain rapt in total thrall.

NOS4A2 is essentially the story of two rivals: Vic McQueen and Charles Talent Manx, III. The book covers several decades of each individual’s life, beginning with Charlie comatose in a hospital bed and Vic a spry young child whose favorite possession is her Tuff Burner bicycle.

Let’s start with Vic. When she rides her bike Vic finds that the vehicle gives her access to a bridge that can bring her anywhere she wants to go. The Bridge, a kind of thought-form made real by her uniquely (but not exclusively) talented mind, is based on an old bridge that was once in the woods behind her neighborhood. The families in the area called it the Shorter Way. That bridge was taken down when Vic was younger, as it had become a danger to those who dared travel across its dilapidated structure. But Vic’s bridge is always there when she needs it. Specifically when she needs to find something. She dubs it the bridge between lost and found, and after using it successfully to find several lost posessions for her and her family, she learns she can use it to find more than just inanimate objects.

Now Vic’s family is pretty messed up – her dad loves her like a father should, but doesn’t necessarily like her mother all that much. There’s some drinking, some hitting and a lot of arguing. When her father finally leaves them in the lurch Vic and her mom have a knockdown-drag out fight and Vic takes off looking for trouble. The Shorter Way is waiting to help her find it – literally – in the form of Charlie Manx.

Charles Manx has lived a long time. Now, before I go any further, despite the title this is NOT  a vampire story. Not in the traditional sense at least. There’s no coffins, crosses, garlic, sparkles or Bougainvillea. There’s no goth make-up or rock bands, no blood drinking. No, this isn’t a vampire tale at all, the title of the book is the license plate on Manx’s 1930’s Rolls Royce Wraith and a perhaps unconscious nod via his ex wife (from waaay back) to an aspect of his own personal extraordinary gifts.

image courtesy of sportscardigest.com

Remember how I said Vic’s talent was not exclusive to her? Well, Mr. Manx has a talent as well – he has a kind of symbiotic relationship with his car. It’s an extension of him, of his mind and the strange inner landscape within his mind. An inner landscape, a place specifically, where it is Christmas all the time.

Christmas all the time. Just think about that for a minute. If that’s not the perfect setting for some sickness to occur, then I don’t know what is. And Manx is sick alright. But not in the way you’ll first thing when you see what it is he does. See, Charlie Manx abducts children and then brings them via his car to Christmasland, where they get to live out the rest of eternity never growing old, never dying and enjoying hot cocoa and presents everyday. What’s wrong with that you might ask (and if you do I still say you’re sick)? Well, for starters they cease to be human because Manx essentially syphons off that humanity and uses it to ease his own aging, in the process turning them into homicidal little monsters with insatiable desires to ‘play’ with people in the most sadistic fashion possible (I don’t think I’ll be handling a pair of scissors for some time without thinking about “Scissors for the Drifter”).

I’m perhaps going into more detail than I wanted to. Let’s wrap this up by saying that young Vic is the first kid to end up in Charlie Manx’s clutches and escape. And in the process she sets off a series of events that puts Manx in the aforementioned coma and leads Vic to a new life, a life with a husband and a son and, well, and a predilection for receiving phone calls from missing kids stranded in Christmasland, lonely without their father, the nice Mr. Manx.

NOS4A2 is, in his own words, Joe Hill going big. The scope here is so big there’s a comic book planned to explore some of the other stories possible. It’s horror but not schlock; it’s fantasy but not hobbitted. It’s smooth and sleek and dark like Manx’s Rolls Royce, but it’s also beautiful and respectful of life, a stunning destination at the place where the people we are as children meet the people we turn into as we age, and the disagreements that can take place during a meeting of that magnitude.

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

One Response to Thee Avid Reader #2: Joe Hill’s NOS4A2
  1. [...] many of you have read Joe Hill‘s wonderful novel NOS4A2 (which I reviewed earlier in the year here... joup.co/thee-comic-column-60-joe-hills-wraith-welcome-christmasland

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