NOS4A2, Joe Hill


Hot Take

Imaginative storytelling and true moments of terror hindered by a long-winded plot and a slew of cheap tricks and pot shots. The main character, Vic, also referred to as The Brat, is memorable, beautifully flawed, and great fun to read. Some readers may find the Christmas-themed horror trope silly, but there’s something sinister about the corruption of sacred traditions that sends a shiver down my spine. Three Stars.

Spoiler-Free Review

The Premise

Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.

Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”

Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.

“I felt like it needed some color down there, so I painted the walls with the motherfucker.”

The Review

I love horror and I wanted to love this book. It was my first Joe Hill experience and I had high expectations. Some aspects of this story met or exceeded those expectations. Others… did not. Let’s discuss.

some things I really loved….
The story’s originality was undeniable. I’d never read anything quite like NOS4A2, and I doubt I ever will again. The plot, the characters, the supernatural elements, and the references to other classic horror novels (like King’s IT) were all fresh and exciting. I enjoyed the concept of Christmasland and found some of the imagery and events truly frightening. Yes, it’s a little camp, but that’s okay with me!

I genuinely liked the characters. Vic, aka The Brat, had some moments as a teen where she really annoyed me, but perhaps that was the point? Otherwise, I enjoyed reading the novel from her perspective and liked her badass approach to the villain.

Speaking of the villain, Manx, along with his sidekick, were pretty awesome, in my opinion, and gave me shivers more than once.

and some things I hated….
1. The novel needed an editor. The author could’ve easily cut 20-25% of the text. This would’ve reined in the plot and created something that felt tight and intentional. As-is, the story was inflated and meandering. Some books need 700 pages… this one did not.

2. The author used a tremendous amount of effort and space to constantly, unyieldingly, criticize a character’s weight. Lou Carmody was a fat guy. We get it. Did the author really need to call him fat with every other word for 700 pages? Did we need paragraphs about his jowls, his belly, his clogged arteries, his eating habits, and his man boobs? The worst thing, Lou was a great character, a heroic character, funny, loyal, but none of those traits were highlighted half as much as his fat ass.

3. Unnecessary violence. This may seem silly to mention for an adult horror book. The truth is: I’m okay with violence as long as it fits the tone and context of the narrative. Several events in this book seemed like they were added for shock value. They just didn’t fit. They were so over the top that they pulled me out of the story.

Accolades for the audio book: Kate Mulgrew narrates the audio version of the book, and holy cow, she gives it her all. Fantastic; highly recommended!

Read this book if you love…

  • Strong female leads
  • Horror, the supernatural
  • Originality
  • Creepy Christmas
  • Good versus evil
  • Scary children

Skip this book if can’t stomach…

  • Constant fat shaming
  • Periods of extreme violence
  • Very bad things happening to okay people and animals
  • Rape and sexual violence
  • Long meandering books
  • Campy horror tropes

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