In which I write about NOS4A2 by Joe Hill… and about going to Joe Hill’s book signing in San Francisco this week!
So yeah, I’m not necessarily going to write a thoughtful, carefully worded book review here. I’m still feeling too giddy — the effect that all good book events have on me. I adore going to author appearances. I love hearing authors read from their books. I love when they answer questions (even the kinda dumb ones). And I especially love when they write stuff in my book! Like, with my name, and maybe some other words, and maybe a gold or silver marker or something.
So yeah, first things first:
Joe Hill signed my book! It was a terrific event. I’d guess about 50 – 60 people attended, at a great indie book store in the Haight. Joe was funny and friendly, answered lots of questions, did a great reading of the prologue, and was just nice and humble and an all-around decent person. Plus, he did this before he was officially introduced:
So, onward to the review section of this love-fest.
NOS4A2 is the story of Victoria (Vic) McQueen, one tough survivor of a woman, who has been through all sorts of hell in her life and still managed to hang on, sometimes just by the skin of her teeth. Vic has a talent, first discovered during childhood, for finding lost objects — by traveling, impossibly, across a dilapidated covered bridge that exists only in her mind to the places where the lost objects await her. Charlie Manx is Vic’s worst nightmare. Charlie is an indescribably old man, a killer and a kidnapper, a vampirish soul-sucker, who has spent countless decades stealing children away from their parents and transporting them in his classic Rolls Royce to Christmasland. Vic and Charlie cross paths, fatefully, during Vic’s teen years, and then again years later, when Vic is a tenuously stable mother to 12-year-old Wayne. When Charlie reenters Vic’s life, she has to risk everything to get her son back by whatever means possible.
And that’s all I’ll say about the plot, a) because it’s incredibly difficult to describe and b) because you really have to experience this book for yourself, with the fewest preconceived notions as possible.
NOS4A2 is, hands-down, the creepiest, most twisted thing I’ve read in years. At almost 700 pages, this big book is full of gasp- and twinge-inducing moments. There’s a lot of yuckiness. There’s a lot of ickiness. There are all sorts of shades of evil and menace. Bad things happen to good people.
Through it all, Joe Hill’s writing soars. His phrasing is funny, idiomatic, descriptive, and even poetic… if you can be poetic while describing maniacal vehicles and gasmask-wearing sadistic serial killers. Never underestimate the scary power of a simple Christmas carol — if it’s playing at the wrong time and in the wrong circumstances:
The radio popped on, playing “Jingle Bell Rock” at top volume — so loud it hurt his ears — a song that had no business playing in the spring. At the sound of it, Demeter’s whole body went rough and cold with chickenflesh. He poked the OFF switch, but his capacity for surprise was running thin, and he felt no special amazement when it wouldn’t turn off. He punched buttons to change the station, but no matter where the tuner leaped, it was “Jingle Bell Rock” on every channel.
The Rolls Royce itself (a 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith, to be precise) is a character on its own, part and parcel of Charlie Manx and practically his familiar. It’s an ominous black hearse of a car, which should attract an outrageous amount of attention on the road — but doesn’t. In one of the book’s rather humorous turns of phrase, Charlie explains:
It is like what they are always saying about Las Vegas: What happens in the Wraith stays in the Wraith.
Vic is a wonderful main character, spiky and difficult and full of fierce love. Her sometimes partner and father of her child is Lou Carmody, who I love insanely. Lou is terribly overweight and not very healthy, but has a heart of gold, the soul of a hero, and is a geeky fanboy through and through, as well as one hell of a mechanic. Lou’s devotion to Vic and to Wayne is all sorts of beautiful.
Joe Hill is — as is well known by now — the very talented son of Stephen King, and in NOS4A2, he pays tribute to his dad’s monumental achievements in ways both subtle and overt. A car that’s a vessel of evil, an enormous St. Bernard dog (although not rabid, thank the gods), nods to Derry and Pennywise the Clown — all add to the depth of the horror without detracting in the slightest from Joe Hill’s own incredible gift for storytelling.
I realize I’m gushing, so I’ll stop. NOS4A2 is a big, scary, un-put-down-able book. Read it!
Oh, and make sure you read every single page in the book. Including after the story ends. You’ll thank me later.