Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Written Word Review: NOS4A2

     Joseph Hillstrom King has written three novels: Heart-Shaped Box, Horns (which is being adapted into a film starring Daniel Radcliffe), and this month's NOS4A2, along with a very popular comic series called Locke & Key. He is also Stephen King's son. Obviously, writing stories in the horror universe being of the same blood as the grand-master has its ups and downs--it's probably pretty easy to get published, but it's extremely difficult to be taken seriously on merit alone. But Joe doesn't have that problem: under the pen name of "Joe Hill", the son of Stephen King (he actually has another son, Owen King, who has a critically-acclaimed first novel titled Double Feature out this month, too) had people fooled for almost a decade, crafting great supernatural stories that ranked among the best of new writers.
     NOS4A2 is a beast--a hungry beast at nearly 700 pages that will annihilate minutes off the clock and the skin off of the tip your thumb from turning pages. It's that good: seemingly taking to task the reputation of his father's work head on (instead of shying away from it), Hill has crafted one of the most entertaining and gulp-inducing books so far this year, and it's not only his best novel, but as good as the early Stephen King works (though I'm hesitant to compare, because it only fuels the fire of arguing that Joe Hill is only popular due to his dad).
     NOS4A2 is about a bad man with a bad car. Charlie Manx is an old geezer who has a scary streak and a penchant for taking children for a ride: he doesn't just drive them down the road and molest them, though. He takes them--driving his 1938 Rolls Royce (the licence plate is the title of the book, and is also a vampire reference, to state the completely obvious)--to a place called Christmasland, where every single day is Christmas--presents get opened, rides are ridden, beautiful snow falls.  But Chuck's car doesn't run on gasoline: it runs on the souls of the children he steals, slowly taking away from them any semblance of humanity or empathy that ever existed in them.
      Christmasland exists as an "Inscape", which is a place somewhere between reality and thought. Only certain people can reach these "Inscapes"...similiar to the gift young boy Danny has in Joe's dad's The Shining. Victoria McQueen (also known as "Vic", or "The Brat") is a woman who is really great at finding stuff: as a child, she would ride her bicycle to the dilapidated covered wooden bridge in her small town. Only when she crosses it, she can seemingly teleport (for lack of a better word) to places in the world where she needs to find something specific--a lost bracelet, other people who know about "Inscapes", etc. As a child she has a run in with Charlie Manx. I won't delve deeper, but the novel takes place across decades and involves Vic as an adult, when a new bike and a new problem come crashing into Vic's life.
     If it sounds corny, it's only because the book is so hard to explain. Unlike his more supernatural and surreal last book, Horns (which I loved), NOS4A2 is more straight-up horror. One character in particular, a man-child who comes under Manx's spell and takes people to his "House of Sleep" by the name of Bing, is very well-characterized. He's the type of dude who keeps women chained in the basement and no one on his street knows any different. But Manx is the true villain here: a man who is so nice and open, but one who would do anything to suck the life out of the nearest child with his metaphorical sharp teeth.
     Above all, though, NOS4A2 is about relationships: mother and child, father and child, father-figure and child. The lengths that parents go to to protect their children. How a child's thoughts of their parents keep them from succumbing to powerful forces. Joe Hill has made a statement with his third novel: if you're looking for the next big name in good horror fiction, since Stephen King is getting up there in age and output, look no further than the spawn of Stephen King.

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