Mondays on the Margins: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

What's that? It's Tuesday, you say? Let's not quibble. No one in Canada is going to be sure WHAT freaking day it is all this week anyway.

I stumbled across Joe Hill's writing in short story anthologies first - I think probably one of the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror ones, but I'm not certain. The stories were good enough that I looked for more of them, which led me to the Locke & Key graphic novels and his first full-length novel,  Heart-Shaped Box. I bought the first Locke & Key, and it was interesting, but graphic novels aren't really my thing and I haven't read any further in the series yet. Heart-Shaped Box I remember I really liked, although I didn't take notes on it and I can't remember much of it. Hill's second novel, Horns, I loved, and many scenes from it are carved on my memory even though I read it a couple of years ago.

Somewhere in all this I discovered that Joe Hill was Stephen King's son. I wondered, briefly, whether King was sick with envy or just immensely proud. I'm not one of those people who think Stephen King is literary junk food. I think he's a solid genre writer who exhibits flashes of brilliance, and when he's good he's splendid. He has maybe suffered from trying to be too prolific, and he occasionally gets unforgivably sloppy (Lisey's Story? The end of Duma Key? Good LORD, man). But he writes children - particularly children in peril, and not just from supernatural causes - very well, sometimes painfully so. Some of his scenes of falling in love or coping with loss are stand-outs in my mind, even without all the blood-running cold stuff, which I also enjoy.

But Joe Hill at his best is easily as good as his dad, if not better. His writing has a subtlety that King only achieves at his very best. So I couldn't help wondering, while reading this latest book, why Hill would choose now - for his third, widely-anticipated book, just when more people are probably figuring out who he is - to write a Stephen King book.

I mean, it's a really good Stephen King book. We're totally talking The Dead Zone or The Stand or The Green Mile, not Cell or that shit-weasel book. But it was impossible to shake the feeling that I was reading a Stephen King book.

Here's the plot synopsis from Goodreads: "Charlie Manx burned a man to death in his black 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith, but that’s not the worst of it. Rumor has it that he kidnapped dozens of children, taking them to a place he calls “Christmasland.” The only child ever to escape was a very lucky girl named Victoria McQueen.

Vic has a gift – she can ride her bike through the Shorter Way bridge and she’ll come out the other side wherever she needs to be, even if it’s hundreds of miles away. Vic doesn’t tell anyone about her ability; no one would understand.

When Charlie Manx finally dies after years in prison, his body disappears...after the autopsy. The police and media think someone stole it, but Vic knows the truth: Charlie Manx is on the road again...and he has her kid. And this time, Vic McQueen’s going after him."

Does that not sound like it could be describing the next Stephen King book? But it's more than just the plot. It's the way Vic's parents fight. It's the way she discovers her talent for finding lost things by riding a Raleigh Tuff Burner bicycle across a covered bridge that doesn't exist any more. It's Charlie Manx, a kind of psychic vampire who lives well past a hundred years by siphoning the youthful vitality of children. It's the well-meaning but ill-equipped cops who try to help Vic but also suspect her (who wouldn't?) when her son is kidnapped by a man who died and was autopsied a few days ago. It's Maggie Leigh, the librarian Vic runs into early in her travels, who has a similar talent for finding inexplicable things, and tells Vic that this kind of talent always comes with a price. 

I enjoyed the story. The relationship between Vic and her husband and then ex-husband Lou is beautiful and sad and rings true. The plot is satisfying enough. The idea of people who can create inscapes - short-circuits in reality, where things are somehow magically different than for everyone else - is intriguing, and Vic is a good character. But if I'm totally honest, I sort of wish I had bought Horns and gotten this one from the library, which is the opposite of what I did. Maybe it's unfair to expect Hill to separate himself more definitively from his father's work - I certainly had no complaints early on that he had chosen to write in the dark fantasy and horror genre, although one might have thought it would be almost impossible for him to get a fair critical reading. As a homage to his father - there was a Pennywise reference somewhere that I meant to write down, and forgot to - NOS4A2 is lovely. But Horns and his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts really stretched my imagination and sense of wonder. As a Joe Hill book, this is a pretty good Stephen King novel. 

Favorite Quote:

"Maggie set her hat on her sherbet-colored hair with the dignity and care of a drunk dandy about to sway out of the absinthe hall and into the rainy Paris night."


Magpie said…
Just what color is sherbet colored hair?? I might need some!
I read this book synopsis on GoodReads a couple of days ago and thought it sounded really interesting. I know you are giving it a 3 star, but I put a hold on it at the library anyway. When I like Stephen King, I really like him, so if this is a Joe Hill emulating his dad, this might be alright. :)
Maggie said…
I am in the middle of reading this right now and had exactly the same thought - it may say Joe Hill on the outside, but it's nearly 100% Stephen King on the inside. I also like most of SK's books, so I don't really mind, but I enjoyed Horns so much and it didn't feel like SK novel. I was just debating whether I feel like finishing NOS4A2, but I will probably power through and hope it wraps up better than some of SK's more recent books.
Bibliomama said…
It's like you're inside my mind! At least it's not the first in a trilogy. :)
Lynn said…
Hm. I've read good reviews of this, and was considering reading it despite the obnoxious title and the Stephen King connection (I have gone from enjoying some SK to enjoying almost no SK to feeling like he may be PURE EVIL).

But the fact that it's A Very Stephen King Novel is quite a turnoff.

I'll consider his other books but poor Joe Hill really has a huge, huge uphill battle with me. Go ahead, SON OF EVIL, do your best.
StephLove said…
You know, I read 20th c Ghosts and I thought I remembered what I thought about it-- that I mostly liked it but a few stories were too much for me. (People who cite sloppily cite SK when they mean unremittingly frightening for the most part haven't read him and the mix is what I like about him.) But then I went and looked at the TOC and couldn't find the name of the story I thought freaked me out so badly and now I'm thinking it might have been another author all together and what IS the point of this comment anyway, you may be wondering. I think it's that I will read the new Joe Hill now that you've reassured me it won't go too far for me.
Sarah McCormack said…
I agree.. giving up sugar is life alteringly difficult, not a small change!!

love your last 3 posts!
Douglas said…
Nice review.

I agree with you. I loved his first two books. Because of that, I held this a little higher and it just failed to reach that for me. The book does contain that Joe Hill character quirkiness that keeps you engaged, but I felt the plot, though obscure and unique, was somewhat predictable, and the ending fell just a little flat (though I hear there's more as you get the "Notes on Type" section that doesn't appear in the e-book version, so I haven't seen it).

I am, however, greatly looking forward to the movie adaptation of Horns (starring Harry Potter).

My review is at if you care to check it out!

Otherwise, keep reading and writing! Thanks!

Popular posts from this blog

Clothes Make the Blog Post

Books Read in 2021: Four-Star YA Horror

Mean Spirits