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. I was surprised to see Stephen King’s son writing again and more surprised to see that he has learned a few tricks from his dad that made this book a complete success.
This is the story of a mother fighting a monster to save her son. This is a story of people being able to travel to make-believe lands much like Lisey was able to travel, much like the Territories, much like the Dark Tower doors.
Joe Hill has described this 700+ page book as “my senior PhD thesis on horror”, about a very bad 140 year old man who kidnaps children and takes them to a terrible place called Christmasland. This is an accurate surface description, but doesn’t even come close to describing what this book is really about: the truest kind of love, which can come from even the most flawed human beings.
It was no good being a mother. She wanted to start a website, a public-awareness campaign, a newsletter, to get the word out that if you were a woman and you had a child, you lost everything, you would be held hostage by love: a terrorist who would only be satisfied when you surrendered your entire future.
Victoria McQueen is a badass artist with a badass talent that goes beyond her artistic abilities. She has the ability to cross any distance with her ‘shorter way’ bridge to locate missing things. The bridge comes into existence with the combination of her strong, creative mind and transportation, not just any transportation, but a vehicle that chooses her, a Raleigh Tuff Burner in her youth and a Triumph motorcycle in adult years. It’s magic, and all magic has its price.
Victoria finds she’s not the only person in the world with special talents similar to hers, she finds two others, Maggie Leigh who can find answers to questions by the use of scrabble tiles and Charlie Manx who travels in a Rolls Royce Wraith that can transport him to other dimensions in a world of his own creation…..his creation is called Christmas-land, where it’s the happiest time of the year all year round (for Manx anyway.)
What good is an amusement park called Christmas Land if there are no children to fill it? None. So Manx goes about the country in his magic car kidnapping children, for their own good he believes,(what child wouldn’t want to live in a place where it’s Christmas day everyday?) with his sidekick, Bing. Bing doesn’t have any special abilities other then being uber creepy…..seriously, he’s the true stuff of nightmares.
One day Charlie Manx crosses Victoria McQueen and that is where the fun begins…..fasten your seat belts, keep hands inside the ride at all times, and for goodness sake don’t get out of the car until the ride has come to a complete stop.
Finally Manx sighed and went on. “I don’t mind telling you, Wayne, almost all of the trouble I’ve ever known started with one woman or another. Margaret Leigh and your mother and my first wife were all cut from the same cloth, and Lord knows there have been plenty more where they came from. Do you know what? All the happiest times in my life were times when I was free of the feminine influence! When I didn’t have to make accommodations.
Men spend most of their lives being passed from woman to woman and being pressed into service for them. You cannot imagine the life I have saved you from! Men cannot stop thinking about women. They get thinking about a lady and it is like a hungry man thinking about a rare steak. When you are hungry and you smell a steak on the grill, you get distracted by that tight feeling in your throat and you quit thinking. Women are aware of this. They take advantage of it. They set terms, same as your mother sets terms before you come to dinner. If you don’t clean your room, change your shirt, and wash your hands, you aren’t allowed to sit at the dinner table. Most men figure they are worth something if they can meet the terms a woman sets for them. It provides them with their whole sense of value. But when you take a woman out of the picture, a man can get a little quiet inside. When there’s no one to bargain with, except for yourself and other men, you can figure yourself out. That always feels good.”
We can tell that Manx hates women and loves children. But he does not love them in the creepy way, in his own demented way he thinks that he is doing the children of the world a favour by taking them away from their parents and taking them to a place where they would not have to face the cruelty of the adults, the sorrow and the confusion that comes with growing up, the pain of responsibility. He creates Christmasland – a place where every day is Christmas, and every evening is Christmas’s eve. A place trapped in a loop similar to Miss Peregrine’s Children. The only difference is that in this place, all children are turned into little cruel vampires. The type that would strip a butterfly of its wings and watch it die slowly…
I think the entire story started with Manx’s wife, Cassie, and when she started making fun of him – he looked for an escape.
She was only sixteen at the time, just a nub of a thing, graceful and considerate and shy. This is the way with many women. In youth they are precious gems of possibility. They shudder with feverish life and desire. When they turn spiteful, it is like a chick molting, shedding the fuzz of youth for darker feathers! Women often give up their early tenderness as a child gives up his baby teeth.
Opposite Manx, you have Victoria (a hint in the name, she will be Victorious) – a woman of special talent, full of love for both the father of her child and her boy. She never married Lou but she still loved him, even as she was tormented by the Children of Christmasland and slowly getting crazier as she was trying to reconcile her past of driving through a tunnel through reality and her present of being an adult knowing that this thing isn’t possible.
Men, she thought, were one of the world’s few sure comforts, like a fire on a cold October night, like cocoa, like broken-in slippers. Their clumsy affections, their bristly faces, and their willingness to do what needed to be done—cook an omelet, change lightbulbs, make with hugging—sometimes almost made being a woman fun. She wished she were not so aware of the vast gulf between what the men in her life thought she was worth and her actual value. She had, it seemed to her, always asked and expected too much and given too little.
She goes against Manx when he comes back from a Coma (and back from the dead) and decides to steal her little boy, Wayne (Bruce Wayne!). It’s a story told from the back of a motorcycle, filled with memorable characters (an overweight Lou, a dynamite handling father, a smart FBI agent called Tabitha (after Joe Hill’s mother Tabitha King) and also with enough creepy kids with rows of teeth to remind you of the worms of Dune.
My favourite character was Maggie, a scrabble champion carrying a bag with tiles. Whenever she used her special skill, she could tell the future or find things in the same way that Victoria did. She suffered a fate worse than what you could imagine for a child with her abilities, suffering from terrible stutter – to a point where she would have to use the cigarette she was smoking to burn herself so that the pain would clarify her speech.