Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.
This week’s featured title is NOS4A2 by Joe Hill:
- Hardcover: 704 pages
- Publisher: William Morrow (April 30, 2013)
- ISBN-10: 0062200577
- Source: Publisher
Like many children her age, Victoria (Vic) McQueen enjoys taking off on her bike, exploring new frontiers. Unlike other children, however, Vic’s bike can transport her to wherever she needs to go…in a matter of seconds. All she has to do is ride her bike through an old, decrepit bridge, coincidentally named the Shorter Way bridge, and she’s transported miles away. These journeys aren’t made without consequence, however, for the act leaves Vic weak and feverish for days.
On one of these adventures, Vic meets a young girl, Maggie Leigh, who has her own special talent. She is able to seek answers by reading Scrabble tiles. Like Vic, Maggie’s “talent” has a side effect. In her case, it is stuttering. She started of speaking normally and without impediment but her talent has caused her speech to deteriorate over time.
It is Maggie who tells Vic about Charles Talent Manx, a man who drives a 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with a vanity plate that reads “NOS4A2.” Manx is an incredibly evil man. His “talent” is the Wraith. It can transport him, and the children he abducts, to a terrifying place known as Christmasland. Manx uses the energy and essence of the children to stay alive; a soul-sucking vampire of sorts.
He takes children for rides in his car and it does something to them. He uses them up – like a vampire – to stay alive. He drives them into his own inscape, a bad place he dreamed up, and he leaves them there. When they get out of the car, they aren’t children anymore. They aren’t even human. They’re creatures that could only live in the cold s-s-space of the Wraith’s imagination.
Maggie stresses that Vic should avoid Manx and the Wraith at all costs, yet after an argument with her mother, Vic treks out in search of Manx. She finds him but is able to escape, the only child to have done so.
Fast forward a few decades. Vic is now an adult and has a child. Her life has been pretty messed up, largely in part to what happened when faced Manx. She is no longer the young and innocent girl she once was; Substance abuse and mental illness have caused her to spiral downward. All these years, Manx has been incapacitated in a coma-like state. He hasn’t forgotten the child who got away. He’s out to seek revenge, going right to Vic’s weak spot: her son. Aiding Manx is Bing Partridge, a truly sick and demented individual. Bing, affectionately (or not) referred to as the Gasmask Man steals dental-grade anesthesia (which smells coincidentally like gingerbread) from his place of employment and uses it to incapacitate the children Manx abducts.
I’m going to warn you…the paragraphs that proceed contain a great deal of gushing about Hill’s brilliance. Please note this text has been trimmed down considerably. My original review was novella length. Figuring no one would want to read all that, I did a bit of editing.
Joe Hill is absolutely brilliant. I have been an avid follower of his for years, before it was known he was the son of the incredibly talented Stephen King. I have loved everything this man has ever written, but he has really outdone himself with NOS4A2. In it, he not only grants readers with a truly outstanding horror novel but a truly remarkable examination of good vs. evil and the strength of families.
At the heart of Manx’s abductions is the idea that he is rescuing these children from abuse of some sort (whether actual or imagined). In the case of Vic the intensity of one mother’s love for her son is what wins out in the end. Speaking of family, Hill gives a few nods to his father’s work and names a character after his mother. In the past, I have mentioned that King’s talented writing has been passed down to his son. I’m going to take that back. Prepared to be shocked…for I believe that, with NOS4A2, Hill has exceeded his father in horror genius. An “amusement park” with a Christmas theme that serves as a prison of sorts to captured children turned evil monsters. That terrifies me much more than any demonic clown might.
Additionally, it’s the depth Hill has added to the characters that really makes this novel stand out. It’s not only the protagonist that stands out in this case, but also a majority of the secondary characters as well. Hill takes the time to develop each and every one of them individually. The fact that the protagonist is a very, very flawed yet incredibly strong young woman pleases me to no end. Unlike many novels with female protagonists, Vic needs no saving. She’s kicking ass and taking names!
Some might think this novel (and perhaps this review even!) is too long. I disagree; for each and every word, every sentence, Hill puts on the page has value and meaning to the story. He isn’t liberal with his writing; he doesn’t insert a bunch of unnecessary, flowery text just to reach his word count. Each.and.every.word.counts. I’ve read this novel twice (and I’m about to start the audiobook, narrated by Kate Mulgrew ) and each time I just revel in Hill’s truly tremendous talent. So kudos to you, Joe Hill, for gifting your readers with a truly brilliant piece of art. Highly, highly recommended.