"NOS4A2" by Joe Hill : A Book Review

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Reviewed by GradyRichards

 Joe Hill is the author of Heart-Shaped Box, Horns, and anthology, 20th Century Ghosts, as well as a co-author of the comic book series Locke & Key. Hill's third novel, NOS4A2, was released April 30, 2013... and not only did I pre-order the book, I paid extra to receive it the very day it was released.

I put the book down, exhausted, around fourteen hours after I picked it up and, while I'm not certain, I think it was the only time I put it down.

NOS4A2, for those of you oblivious to the language of license plates, is pronounced “Nosferatu” after the gruesome and (in my opinion) ultimate vampire from the 1922 film of the same name. But NOS4A2 isn't a vampire novel, in any traditional sense. It's the story a young girl—and later—grown woman named Vic McQueen and her bizarre talent for finding lost things. It's also the story of Charlie Manx, a child-abductor with a 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith and a bizarre talent of his own. Mr. Manx can find roads that no one else can find; secret roads which lead him and his young passengers to “Christmasland”, an imagined pocket universe where every day is Christmas and every scant inch is built in the image of Manx's twisted idea of a perfect world. And the children Manx brings to Christmasland, they become a part of that sick image, too.

When Vic McQueen is 17 years old, she becomes the only child to escape Manx, and after his subsequent arrest, he becomes obsessed with Vic and her unique ability. When he seeks revenge by kidnapping her young son, Vic McQueen must use her talent for finding things to locate Manx and save her son before they reach Christmasland.

Joe Hill's writing, as evidenced in this book and everything else he's published, is highly polished, thickly plotted, and elegantly placed. His work never disappoints me, unless you count the way it makes me wish that all writers could put out stories of such quality. After reading a novel by Joe Hill, I usually take a week off of reading, just to keep myself from holding a grudge against the next author for not being more like Hill.

When I say Joe Hill's work is polished, I mean that stuff really shines. He obviously puts a lot of work into his drafts. Every sentence is perfectly placed, every segment is perfectly paced. The images he puts in one's head are maddeningly vivid, yet somehow entirely up to one's own interpretation. Each descriptive device, each analogy, seem to be worked around until it has the precise power and effect it deserves. It's really uncanny how flawless Hill's prose not only can be, but is. Inexorably is. It makes me suspect that he goes the extra light year and writes thirty revisions before being satisfied.

Oh, if only more authors could write so seamlessly.

In the case of NOS4A2, the story is incredible. Like in his other works, the characters are imaginatively flawed and believably human. They are off-color personality types that you rarely find in a book that isn't directly about drug abuse, alcoholism, or other detrimental lifestyles. You can alternately find yourself laughing with them (or at them) and wanting to punch them in the face. The characters in this book—as in all Hill novels—don't only jump off the page, they bump into your shoulder and tell you to watch where you're walking.

The book has it all, not the least of which being some genuinely spooky moments. Tight action sequences, witty dialog that lends real breath to the characters, long and fascinating stretches of narrative which explain the internal physics of the plot and color the world rising around you to perfect clarity and then some. If that isn't enough for you, NOS4A2 also offers a rare example of an off-Broadway brand of love story, kept tastefully on the backburner, which allows the casual (or ravenous) reader to finally get a glimpse of realistic non-Hollywood relationships in a work of fantastic fiction.

In a rare show of adoration, I have no complaints about this book. And if I have a complaint with Joe Hill, it's only that he doesn't put out four or five books a year. Although I suppose it's for the best that he doesn't. I wouldn't want him sacrificing the shiny chrome for any amount of trunk space.

All in all, I can't think of a single person that I wouldn't recommend this book to. As a matter of fact, I've grudgingly loaned out my copy to a 68 year old librarian... and by God if it isn't returned to me by the date scrawled on my homemade checkout slip, there's going to be a librarian shelving books with a broken hip.

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