NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
Posted November 1, 2016on:
where I got it: purchased new
Let’s get the crux of this novel out of the way right away: Charles Manx is one creepy motherfucker. Driving across the country in his Rolls Royce, he promises to take good little boys and girls to Christmasland where they will always be happy and every day is Christmas morning. Manx’s henchman Bing gets to take care of the mothers.
And then there’s Victoria McQueen. She is hella awesome. And unusually talented at finding lost things. She can hop on her bike, travel across a rickety magical bridge, and find herself wherever she needs to be to find the lost item. Her parents are half convinced she’s been stealing trinkets all this time and “magically” finding them as a way to get attention. One day she hops on her bike angry, looking to find some trouble. She finds Charlie Manx instead.
At seventeen years old, Vic becomes the only child to ever escape Charlie Manx. She hopped on her bicycle in Massachusetts, and was found terrified and babbling days later in Colorado. Knowing no one would ever believe her story about a magical bridge, she lied to the authorities and said she’d spent two days locked in the trunk of Manx’s car.
Her interaction with Manx haunts her for the rest of her life. Vic’s struggle with how to explain her talent and what really happened to her was my favorite part of the book. Of course no one believes her when she says dead kids are calling her when no one but her hears the phone ring. Of course no one believes her when she says she’s been on a magical bridge that only she can find. She’s institutionalized. The only way she can see her husband and son again is if she convinces herself that she imagined the entire thing. So that’s what she does. She escapes into artwork, into literature, into anything that’s a distraction. She avoids telephones and drinks too much. I get that the point of this story is Vic confronting Manx, Vic facing her fears, Vic saving everyone else from this horror. With all of that happening, I found myself drawn towards Vic’s relationship with her husband and her son. Her husband loves her and trusts her, and her son is too young to understand that telling the truth can get you thrown in a padded cell. That’s the story under the story, and those were the sections I most enjoyed in this book. I could care less about Manx and Bing. They almost turned into a distraction. (Unless *that* is the point? That Manx is what is distracting Vic from living her best life? That the whole thing is a huge metaphor for getting toxic shit out of your life? Somehow I don’t think so.)
NOS4A2 is a fantastic novel, and if you like American style horror, you’ll love this book. As a whole, it didn’t work for me and took me taking apart another horror story that did work for me to figure out why. Keep your eyes out for the December issue of Apex Magazine, and read the short story by Helen Stubbs, and then read my interview with her. She wrote a short and effective horror story that isn’t about what it’s about, where the most horrifying aspect of the story isn’t the physical monster one of the characters faced. And you know what? I felt safe the entire time I was reading it. Sure, the story scared the shit out of me and was creepy as hell, but I knew the entire time I was reading it that it wouldn’t give me nightmares, that it was a safe kind of scary.
Stubbs’ story was a safe place for me to be scared. When I say “safe place”, I mean a place in my mind, created by what my mind pulls out of a story. I do not mean a physical place. Just wanted to be overly clear on that. I actually hate the phrase “safe space”.
I didn’t feel safe reading NOS4A2 . Yes, yes, I know, that is the whole point of horror. Your mileage may vary, but I fall pretty deep into many of the things that I read, and while that type of experience is completely normal for me, it’s can also be very intense at times. You ever get a tingly feeling on your jaw that simply will not go away? It’s a little like that. NOS4A2 had me envisioning myself as one of the mothers of one of the children. I saw myself in Bing’s basement, helpless, drugged, violated. It wasn’t pretty. I do not enjoy books that have me afraid to close my eyes, afraid of what I will dream about, afraid of interacting with perfectly normal strangers. I do not like them sam I am. Why did I see myself as one of the mothers, and not as Vic? In most of the fantasy novels I read, I see myself as the hero, not as the victim. So that was weird. Maybe I wasn’t enjoying myself because I couldn’t see myself in the hero? Who knows.
Take everything I just said with a grain of salt, since NOS4A2 was nominated for a Stoker award, garnered high praise from critics, and peaked at #5 on the NYTimes best seller list. My issues with the book were 100% my issues.
It have been a struggle to get through, but the end of the novel was quite satisfying, if predictable. Characters realize what freedom from fear is worth, other characters get what they want and/or what they need, the people who deserve a happy ending get one.