Sunday, June 9, 2013

On NOS4A2 by Joe Hill - REVIEW

Synopsis (as per Goodreads):

NOS4A2 is a spine-tingling novel of supernatural suspense from master of horror Joe Hill, the New York Times bestselling author of Heart-Shaped Box and Horns.  

Victoria McQueen has a secret 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 amusement 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.  


LionEyes and I disagree on numerous things (the most recent of these is her thoughts on painting - relaxing, versus my own thoughts on painting - work).  There's countless instances of these differentials including musical tastes, movie preferences, and so on, and so on.  Why wouldn't you marry someone more like yourself, Szever?  Well, there's a word for doing something with yourself.  Differences spark conversation, and help create balance.  Daddy is more fun, Mommy is more strict.  Both of us have read NOS4A2 (LE significantly faster than myself) and our opinions differ (our opinions have coincided on more books than not lately, so this is a particularly interesting bit for me).  In the end, LE wanted her two days back after having read this.  In goodreads star terminology, I would rank this more in the three range than a one.  Perhaps one of these days I can have LE guest-post on here so as to portray both sides of our difference of opinion without me having to put words in her mouth (likely not to happen in this instance, but this post should at least sow the seeds of future possibility). 

Perhaps we should start the actual review by getting the inevitable out of the way.  

Joe Hill was born Joseph Hillstrom King.  He is the son of Stephen King.  Writing horror, in the footsteps of his father - some short stories published are co-written by the father/son duo, it is inevitable that the works of Joe Hill will be compared to his father's.  This is by no means fair to Joe, but is also not a knock on Joe's writing.  In the ways they are similar - mostly genre - they are also different.  Joe is more modern, more supernatural, and more willing to blur the line between good and bad (see below).  Stephen King (do I really have to say anything here?  Let's just leave it at "Stephen King").  Joe Hill was born with a ticket onto the train traveling between madness and reality, where Stephen King not only conducts, but has laid the tracks.  Joe has commandeered his own car and veered it into the consciousness of modern horror culture.  

Szever, you've already used this picture in a post before.  That I have, and the discussion point was on characters that are not necessarily "nice" but become likable regardless.  Joe Hill loves to straddle that line between the good and the bad, the likable and the despicable.  In Joe Hill's first novel, Heart-Shaped Box, Judas Coyne is quite the ass, and even to the end I wasn't necessarily rooting for him to survive.  But the story was entertaining enough that it carried the weight of the nearly unlikable character.  However, regardless of their likability, Joe Hill has a propensity to write his characters with such quirkiness where, like them or not, you want to see what they will do next.  

NOS4A2 suffers a little from the unlikability of the lead characters - however (and this is really my barometer for the likable vs. the unlikable) it never reached the point of Quentin Coldwater (protagonist of The Magicians by Lev Grossman).  Further, as noted above, the characters have some quirks that just make them interesting - like them or not. 

The plot, while interesting and obscure - the central idea being the connection of "inscapes" (places created by the imagination that are made real - such as Vic's bridge and Manx's Christmasland) to the real world was more or less predictable.  LE had finished the book long before I did, and with several hundred pages to read, I "asked" if the story would end via x, y, z (I quickly stated I didn't really want an answer, but was just putting my prediction out there).  I was essentially correct.  This is not to say I was disappointed...

What detracted from the satisfaction at the end was some disconnect, some inconsistency with the story.  Some instances of "why would the character do l-m-n-o-p now?" 

So, as noted above, in Goodreads I will be rating this 3 of 5 stars.  Here, we will give the story an emotionless Agent K.  While I would not necessarily add NOS4A2 on my "recommended" list, I maintain high regards for Heart-Shaped Box and Horns.

Side Notes:
Looking forward to the major motion picture of Horns, which will be starring Harry Potter as Ignatius Perrish.

I will be developing an actual ranking system at some point to replace the use of random images (though the ranking system will likely maintain the use of movie/comic imagery).  


  1. That's interesting. I agree with you for the most part, but I don't really know what you mean by the characters acting inconsistently at the end. And let's NOT get into a smackdown about The Magicians (just kidding - I loved it but almost everybody else I know hated it. Don't know what it is with you people demanding a character who's likable - it's like people who want a movie to be 'believable' - well, no it's not, but I consider them both equally irrelevant :))

    1. It wasn't necessarily the characters acting inconsistently as much as a sense of inconsistency with time and flow in the story. The ending felt jarring and awkward compared to the flow of the rest of the novel. I'll still continue buying his works though. Stephen King wasn't perfect either.

      Something about The Magicians just didn't click with me. I love the Lightbringer books by Brent Weeks (posted about The Blinding Knife, which is book 2 a bit back) and A Song of Ice and Fire, which all have "protagonists" that aren't necessarily good. I suppose I need something to latch onto with a character and I failed to find a connection with Quentin.