*I just found out that Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. He’s had his own thriving career so far, having written several spook-stories already – who knew! Now, I should admit that I actually have never read a Stephen King novel (I KNOW) but I really don’t veer towards horror novels and figured it was about time I tried it. Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 has gotten quite a bit of buzz, and you know by now I’m a sucker for a distinct cover, so here I am lugging a 700 page nightmare around with me for a whole week…..And when I say nightmare, of course I mean that as a compliment, because that’s kind of the point here.
NOS4A2 (or Nosferatu for you non-license plate speaking folk) is about Victoria McQueen who, as a child, is able to dream up a rickety old bridge that takes her to whatever or wherever she desires by riding across it on her bicycle. Justifying it as only her imagination, Vic casually explains away her uncanny ability to find missing objects or how she can appear in places that are miles away. But as she gets older and her bridge is still able to be summoned, her unique ability starts to take a toll on her mental health.
At the same time, the story follows a man named Charlie Manx who drives around in a 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith. In his Wraith, (the one with the license plate NOS4A2) he’s made a habit of kidnapping kids for decades and bringing them to Christmasland, a cerebral place created by Manx where every day is Christmas morning and no one grows up. Though his mission to stop kids from turning into corrupted adults sounds almost noble, Manx and his Wraith do something to the children that turns them into something else: unworldly ghosts with a disturbing and dangerous idea of “fun”. Manx meets a teenaged Vic by chance, when she arrives at Manx’s “Sleigh House”, after crossing her bridge – a secluded cabin decorated in Christmas ornaments. Upon meeting, it turns out Vic and Charlie have some magical abilities in common and their meeting begins to seriously concern and haunt them both.
NOS4A2 is a heifer of a book, and it throws a lot at you in terms of characters and plot developments. The story actually spans most of Vic McQueen’s life, which is eventful to say the least. It’s a great ride though, and certainly doesn’t skim on any of the creep-factors. Hill manages to turn the very idea of Christmas into a shudder-prompting thought (which made me happy that I chose to read this in the off season so not to taint any warm fuzzies associated with the holidays!)
Overall, the characters are strong and do much to validate the wild adventure they are unwittingly on, but one of my favourite parts of the story was the host of secondary characters who are all so colourful and tragic. In particular, Bing, the desperate and disturbed sidekick who longs for entry into Christmasland, Vic’s lover and baby daddy Lou with the heart of gold, and accidental friend and Scrabble enthusiast Maggie are all poignant to the plot, but add great kick to the story on their own.
Since I have next-to-no reading experience with horror, I tend to ask a lot of questions like why some things occur and other’s don’t. How is that person still alive? How does that work? Why did that happen? But questions about the believability of the story shouldn’t be dwelled on, especially with a genre like this that mixes supernatural fantasy and horror into one. NOS4A2 is a fantasy adventure that is successfully creepy, exciting, and crazy until the very end. So pick up a copy, (and lift with your legs, it’s heavy) and just leave Hill in the driver’s seat. He knows exactly where he’s going.