Read: August 2019
Author: Joe Hill
Pages: 720 (paperback)
Selected By: Elle Tea
“Victoria McQueen has an uncanny knack for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. When she rides her bicycle over the rickety old covered bridge in the woods near her house, she always emerges in the places she needs to be.
“Charles Talent Manx has a gift of his own. He likes to take children for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the vanity plate NOS4A2. In the Wraith, he and his innocent guests can slip out of the everyday world and onto hidden roads that lead to an astonishing playground of amusements he calls Christmasland. The journey across the highway of Charlie’s twisted imagination transforms his precious passengers, leaving them as terrifying and unstoppable as their benefactor.
“Then comes the day when Vic goes looking for trouble… and finds her way to Charlie. That was a lifetime ago. Now, the only kid ever to escape Charlie’s evil is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx hasn’t stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. On the road again, he won’t slow down until he’s taken his revenge. He’s after something very special – something Vic can never replace.”
With the insane demands of life of late, I have barely been getting through our recent selections and thought, since those books averaged about 350 pages a piece, that I should begin reading this book as early as possible. Then I read the whole damn thing in ten days.
“If you upset someone, I doubt you meant it. And I doubt you did any lasting damage. People have pretty rubbery brains. They can take quite a bit of bouncing around. Come on. Band-Aids and tea. And answers. They’re all right this way.”
Nos4A2 closely resembles Stephen King’s early novels; It specifically comes to mind, with early chapters full of seemingly idyllic childhood years where anything is possible and everything is believable without a moment’s hesitation, without a pause to consider physics or gravity or the delicate precariousness of one’s own existence, without doubts about one’s perception vs. reality. Young Vic – aka The Brat – resides in these chapters, and the biggest concerns she has are of getting away – away from her parents and her rapidly fracturing home, away from the boredom of everyday life, away from school. The 30% of this novel which focuses on The Brat is my absolute favorite part of the novel; her self-centered attitude makes sense in these chapters, her swift acceptance of the impossible is entirely believable, and we are introduced in these pages to a less-jaded Maggie Leigh.
What a blessed if painful thing, this business of being alive.
Adult Vic, on the other hand, is less likeable. She is a wife and mother, with a husband who is, while not a super-hot sex machine, at least supportive, quirky, and easily lovable, and a son who is what all parents hope their children will be: the best of both of them, with none of their faults or foibles. But initially neither her husband nor her son really seem to matter to her. She loves them in her way, and she would do anything for them… but it’s clear early in our glimpses of her as a grown-up that something is missing, some vital spark, some flame that was specific just to her has gone out, and without it she can’t really feel anything beyond the most superficial. This empty shell of a Vic is intentional on Hill’s part, of course; it turns the gifts which she, Maggie, and Charlie demonstrate into double-edged swords, into Catch-22s: you can do amazing things, astonishing and impossible things, but you will lose a little piece of yourself every time you use it… but to not use it will leave you forever incomplete, forever a spectator to your own life and its possibilities.
… she understood the difference between being a child and being an adult. The difference is when someone says he can keep the bad things away, a child believes him.
Charlie Manx, on the other hand, embraces his gift in a way Vic can’t and Maggie won’t. He and the childlike sociopath Bing Partridge make up the scope of our villains, and of the two, it is actually not Charlie who I found to be the most reprehensible. Yes, he’s a complete nutter, but there is method to his madness: he is entirely driven by fear and truly has a sense that what he is doing is for the protection and well-being of others. You can talk to a man like Charlie Manx, you might even be able to reason with a man like Charlie Manx – if nothing else, you can at least understand ol’ Charlie a bit by the end. But Bing?
… when Vic through about what she liked best in women, she always thought of the soldier’s wife, of her certainty and quiet decency. She thought of mothering, which was really another word for being present and caring what happened to someone. She wished that certainty for herself, that grounded awareness, that she saw in the soldier’s wife, and thought she would like to be a woman such as this: a mother, with the steady, sure, feminine awareness of what to do in a crisis.
There’s no talking to creatures like Bing. There’s no understanding or rationalizing anything about Bing. Bing – Charlie’s version of R.M. Renfield, has no noble self-delusions about himself or his purpose: in the end, he has been promised a great reward if he can hit a certain target, which he sets out to do with all of the gusto of a child promised candy at the end of a chore… but how he accomplishes each task are entirely the creations of his own twisted mind, and he carries each chore out with pure self-righteous delight. Esbe mentioned that she found NOS4A2 vulgar; I didn’t get that impression at all, but I will say that, of all the things in this novel, if it was Bing’s methods to which she objected, I get it. I don’t agree, but I totally get it.
She was part of the lake, the darkness. How she took to darkness. How easily she slipped away from him.
Vic’s husband, Lou, and their son, Bruce Wayne, along with an acquaintance from Vic’s childhood, Maggie Leigh, round out the remainder of our primary supporting cast of characters. Lou is, as I mentioned before, lovable; he’s brave, solid as a rock, dependable, and loyal to a fault. Wayne is a clever and fairly well-adjusted boy, despite his mother’s instability and unreliability for most of his childhood. Maggie Leigh was one of my favorite characters of NOS4A2 – she makes only a couple of appearances, but in both cases her presence serves to get the story back on track, to grab a flailing, cornered, frantic Vic and point her in the right direction with the use of her own version of cleromancy.
The difference between childhood and adulthood, Vic had come to believe, was the difference between imagination and resignation. You traded one for the other and lost your way.
In closing, the entire novel had a very Pan’s Labyrinth-meets-Beetlejuice feel to it, with a sprinkling of The Nightmare Before Christmas to round it all out. I loved Hill’s version of the vampire, and I liked also that each supernatural power demonstrated by a character had its own unique cost which made its use as much of a threat to its owner as it was a gift. I truly enjoyed NOS4A2 and would read more books by Joe Hill. I’ve looked into the AMC television show, but it seems somehow lacking compared to the novel, so if I had to pick one over the other, I’d go with Hill’s original material. If you’ve watched the serial and are scratching your head wondering what all of the hype was about… pick up the novel and find out.
Elle Tea’s Favorite Character(s): The Brat and Maggie Leigh.
Elle read the Amazon Kindle edition of this selection.
This was a suspenseful and exciting read! I would definitely read more by this author. I felt like this was a great different take on vampires. This was a fun story to have to lead us in to fall and Halloween!
She didn’t want proof. She wanted not to know about it.
My favorite character was Lou . I thought he seemed to be a really sweet guy who just wanted to do the right thing. Right behind Lou was Bruce Wayne. He was a serious child that had to babysit his parents to some extent. His parents wanted what was best for him but were a bit of a mess and Wayne was able to be their glue.
She breathed deeply of the scent of decaying fiction, disintegrating history, and forgotten verse, and she observed for the first time that a room full of books smelled like dessert: a sweet snack made of figs, vanilla, glue, and cleverness.
There were times in the story that our leading lady Vic would do something and you would be sitting on the edge of your seat saying, “Why are you doing that? Get up, get up and do something now!”. But what I did was I took a step back and thought if this was happening to me and let’s say someone hit me with something really hard would I be able to superman through it and get right back up and fight? No, no I wouldn’t. You have to think that the shock of the pain and the disorientation that happens would throw you off and it did to our Vic. I thought that the author did a great job of making scenes like this so realistic. It was like you were there and you wanted to scream encouragement to get the character doing what you thought they needed to do to get them out of a bad situation.
We’ll put an APB out on the Gingerbread Man. I’m not hopeful it’ll do us much good, though. Word on the street is you can’t catch him.
I liked the idea that there were people in the world that had a connection with an alternate world/dream world/teleportation thing I really don’t know how to explain it but it was cool. A person could have something that meant the world to them and they could use it to get to different places, real or imaginary, or just to be able to know things that normally you wouldn’t. It was really neat. I need a bicycle that could take me wherever I needed to go. However, this is me we are talking about so what would happen is the thing I would be most attached to would be something like a safety pin and the only thing it would be able to help me do is tell the future of when I would need to reapply deodorant…..so there would be that.
I did not like Vic’s mother but we were seeing her through Vic’s eyes and maybe she wouldn’t have been so bad if we were on the outside getting to observe exactly what was happening. This still doesn’t change my mind and I did not like her very much. She was in a bad situation there was just something that couldn’t make me like her.
You had to know when it made sense to try to untangle something and when to just cut the motherfucker loose.
I wish Vic’s father had been a better person. I liked that he called Vic the Brat. I thought that was really cute because he wasn’t doing it to be mean it was just something for the two of them that he would call her. He loved her very much and I wish he could have found his way to being a better person sooner in the story, but I guess some of the best stories that we read are about people that are broken. It seems to be an ongoing cycle that people like to watch an underdog win by putting themselves back together or just beginning to really live a life that makes them happy.
What odd, superstitious notions they might hold? Wayne was certain dogs were as superstitious as humans. More, maybe.
Our villain of the story was awfully tricky, tricky. He would make you think that he was really doing what was best for children that were in “bad” situations. Let’s be honest I don’t think they had necessarily come from bad situations. It seems like you can spin a story about any one person and make it seem like they need saving. He just needed something from them and this was how they were going to get it by spinning a tale of lies to make it not seem so bad when they took them.
“If I die in a plane crash remember to always bag and board your comics.”
My least favorite character of the whole story was Bing. He was a sick messed up individual. I know there was something wrong with him. He was like a child in an adult’s body. It still couldn’t make me feel completely sorry for him. He seemed to be able to function well enough that he should have been able to tell right from wrong. He was sick.
…the dead felt no loss, wept for no one and nothing.
Also, the place called Christmasland is a creepy, scary places. I don’t care if there are rides, candy, games, and reindeer. If it’s full of feral children like a villainous group of lost children from Peter Pan then how’s that going to be fun? Creepy, very creepy.
“It is all right to cry but don’t give up on laughter.”
I definitely would recommend this book to others if you are in need of a creepy suspenseful tale!
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.
BillMo’s Favorite Character(s): My favorite character was Lou. I thought he seemed to be a really sweet guy who just wanted to do the right thing. Right behind Lou was Bruce Wayne – he was a serious child that had to babysit his parents to some extent. His parents wanted what was best for him but were a bit of a mess and Wayne was able to be their glue.
BillMo read the Amazon Kindle edition of this selection.
I am not an easily offended person. I am by no stretch of the imagination a prude and drop the f-bomb at least once a day, if even only to myself. However, I will be honest, I found this novel vulgar. I was looking forward to something a bit different from The Passage series, but the same caliber of writing. I am the person who believes that if a comedian can be funny without a plethora of vulgarity but still get the point across, then that person is truly funny. I expect the same in a novel as well. Actually, the vulgarity was distracting at points. If Hill was going for poor white trash, he achieved it.
There is no perfect character in this novel. Everyone is flawed and that is true to life. There is no one character that I can look at and completely be onboard with all their actions and behaviors, nor completely disgusted by them, with one exception. In fact, this seems to be a study in dysfunction and how said dysfunction either hinders or strengthens the characters.
Digging past the vulgarity, it is clear that Hill is representing that everyone’s experiences and perception can shade their perspective of the situation. Young Vic has a clear drive, find what is lost and she is successful at it without thinking too much about it. I believe that Young Vic is looking at things with the filter that children have that allows them to see beyond the visible realm. She learns at a young age, that she must fabricate how she discovers things to keep her secret safe, and it makes me wonder if this is the start of her descent into turmoil. Unfortunately, as she grows older and her awareness shifts, she is unable to accept what she accepted without question before which complicates her view of the world, especially as her home life changes. She doesn’t have a perfect childhood. However, her love of her father and his attention and affection for her appears to be more of a silent comradery against her mother, Linda. I believe there is a shift in her attitude toward her father, and it is well deserved. However, it was Linda who verbalized what the truth of the matter was.
While I was a fan of young Vic, I’m definitely not a fan of older Vic. Do I root for her to be victorious over Charlie Manx? Absolutely. However, I found myself rolling my eyes frequently with her older character. As I said, everyone has evolved and dysfunction reigns. Vic has managed to convince herself that she is insane versus accepting what was true in her life, including Charlie Manx. She created a backstory for her encounter with him and let it grow. I could agree that she has PTSD, but her constant denial of her situation, what she must do and the like, reminds me of the dread Rachel Morgan. As you read, they are both so sure of themselves in the completely opposite way in which they should be self-assured. Vic has tenacity that I admire and a will to fight that I can identify with. However, she is my least favorite character.
Charlie Manx is a strange villain. I found him despicable, yet oddly sympathetic. As Elle and discussed, he genuinely believes in his mission. He doesn’t see himself as a villain, but as a savior. Much like a pro-Christmas David Koresh, this man is the oddest of odd thinking he is saving the children he is abducting. We get into his story and discover the source of his angst. I didn’t find myself disliking so much as being disturbed that he was as single-minded and crazy as he was. In fact, I found his Wraith to be more an intriguing “character” of the story than he was.
You learn that Vic, Charlie and Maggie Leigh have different modes of achieving their travel through the mystical world. Vic has her Mean Machine and then the Harley. Maggie has her scrabble tiles. The relationship is symbiotic, but a bit more detrimental to the human over time. Each of the vehicles strips something away from the person that it ferries into this other realm. Vic, it appears to be mental capacity. Maggie Leigh her speech ability and Manx, his humanity. However, it appears that Charlie Manx’s Wraith tends to give the most and takes the most away. I thought of the Wraith as an even more diabolical Christine. While that vehicle was possessed, the Wraith tends to be more vampiric than anything else. It feeds on the life force of the children it ferries to Christmasland, while bolstering Manx. Manx and the Wraith are so entwined that the fate of one affects the other.
I will not spend much time on the characters that I did appreciate and I cannot bring myself to discuss how repulsed I was by the childish, yet seemingly more morbid character of Bing Partridge. Hill did craft a few characters worth investing in. However, overall, this was just not my cup of tea. I struggle with the score. I didn’t like the story all that much, but it was vivid and well written, so I don’t feel I should penalize it for not being what I appreciate in a novel. I will give it a 3, versus a 2, but truly, I don’t think I would read the potential sequel and will have to think long and hard before I move forward to any other offerings made by Mr. Hill.
Lady Esbe’s Favorite Character(s): Younger Vic, Maggie Leigh, Wayne, and Lou.
Lady Esbe’s Review of Narration: I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something about Kate Mulgrew’s performance annoyed me. She did an excellent job bringing everyone to life, but something about the performance turned me off.
Lady Esbe listened to the HarperAudio version of this selection, narrated by Kate Mulgrew.