I read on a book blog last month that Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 was being described as a “masterpiece.” Pretty tempting, right? So after reading a synopsis, I decided to add it to my horror month repertoire, and I’m so glad I did. It truly was an outstanding novel for many reasons.
Here’s the synopsis from Goodreads:
Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.
Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”
Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.
I didn’t expect to love the strong supernatural element in this novel, but I did. Christmasland is an “inscape”: it’s outside of this world, a part of Manx’s imagination that can be accessed in his Rolls-Royce Wraith. Others can intrude on his inscape if they accompany him into it (like the children he abducts and transports there). Vic McQueen, too, has an inscape: the Shorter Way Bridge, which only appears when she is on her Tuff Burner bike as a child and her Triumph motorcycle as an adult. Only a very few people are gifted with these super-abilities of the mind, this bridging (pun intended) of the mental and physical. It adds a lot of tension to the story, as only Vic understands how to reach Manx—and her son—but of course, nobody believes her.
NOS4A2 is not a short novel, but it’s a full and exciting one. The plot is rich with detail, and the characters are very strongly written. Manx and his sidekick Bing are detestable and grotesque, but at the same time, they have some depth. They are not just mindless killers; they actually believe that they are doing the right thing. And I loved Vic, the tough, tattooed, damaged-but-trying mother.
At its heart, this horror novel is about love. The love of an alcoholic mother for her son. The almost-platonic love for a romantic partner. The horribly, horribly misguided love of a father for his daughters. And the lengths that people will go to for the people they love. And what is more creepy than taking something that so many people love—Christmas—and making it sinister?
I’m embarrassed to admit that before reading this novel, I had no idea that Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. (Check out a photo of him—he looks just like his dad!) Hill is a masterful storyteller, and I think I might go so far as to say that I enjoyed NOS4A2 more than I’ve ever enjoyed a Stephen King novel. It’s that good.