Mr. Hill envisions an epic battle between real and imaginary worlds, makes this fight credible and creates a heroine who can recklessly crash from one realm to the other. She is a brave biker chick named Vic McQueen, who rides a Triumph, of course. When she says ‘Come on, honey’ as the story goes into high gear, she’s talking to that bike … NOS4A2, as in Nosferatu, F. W. Murnau’s classic vampire movie, loves playing with words. The book’s villain is a wizened ghoul who tries to lure children to a place where it is always Christmas, with fun features like a Sleigh House, and you don’t have to be Cassandra to know there’s something nasty about that. And NOS4A2 is not really a vampire story, anyway; Mr. Hill’s imagination is much more far-ranging than that. Which is scarier: bloodsucking vampires or the unexpected sound of treacly Christmas music suddenly playing in the summer?
Hill’s NOS4A2 is the kind of big, wide-ranging horror novel that will inevitably evoke comparisons to Stephen King’s work. That, it seems to me, is less the result of direct literary influence than of a shared sensibility and a common belief that horror fiction, properly utilized, can take a reader anywhere. NOS4A2 is horror fiction at its most ambitious, and it goes to some very strange places indeed … A road novel, a horror novel and — most centrally — a novel of character, NOS4A2 is a substantial accomplishment, and it marks Hill as a major force — perhaps the major force — among the younger generation of horror writers. Like the best of its dark breed, it offers visceral narrative pleasures while never losing sight of the human element that lies just below the extravagantly imagined surface.
It's a big, sloppy, nostalgic homage to the kind of unsubtle doorstoppers of the late 1980s horror boom, in which a good (but possibly flawed) character encounters some emblem of supernatural evil against a backdrop of working- or middle-class America. Like most of those novels, [NOS4A2] has energy, plenty of narrative hooks, and a brash intensity. It's also overlong and clumsy – not the kind of narrative vehicle that can make abrupt turns around tight corners … For the most part, [NOS4A2] exists in a pleasantly naive bubble of time and space, within which events such as the Iraq war and global warming have had no visible influence. This is a legitimate stance for a novel that wants to have fun with monsters: but Hill could have offered readers more complicated villains and more genuine surprises.
Like any good novel, no matter the genre, NOS4A2 zips down the streets of its mesmerizing story line not just in the Wraith but also, and more importantly, on the backs of high-octane characters, especially Victoria McQueen. Her story is a doozy … Vic's fight to save her son has all the earmarks of a comic book superhero's journey. Her special power is the strength that comes from a mother's abiding love. Her trip into the ‘inscape’ of Manx's mind where Christmasland abides is fraught with peril and pain. And you've been warned: Hill imbues the pitter-patter of little feet with a terror you won't soon forget.
NOS4A2 is his longest and most ambitious work yet. Besides fussy, strait-laced evildoer Manx; fierce, fragile, stubborn McQueen; and her confident yet vulnerable son Wayne; Hill gives us a host of other involving characters. There’s Bing Partridge, a misogynistic murderer with a handy supply of psychotropic gases. There’s Maggie Leigh, a librarian and self-mutilator with a set of oracular Scrabble tiles. There’s my favorite, Wayne’s father Lou Carmody, a morbidly obese Klingon scholar and comics geek who fights to save his family come hell or heart attacks. Very few of NOS4A2’s 700-plus pages are static descriptions of these folks; most of the time Hill tethers us to their viewpoints and has them tow us along as they blunder or slink or sleuth their way through the story. Their actions reveal their essences.
Joe Hill's creepy supernatural suspense novel NOS4A2 is enough to turn you off to Christmas, because Manx's very unpleasant fantasyland is anything but happy. He fed off the children's souls through his car, like the vampire in the 1922 silent classic Nosferatu, playing endless holiday music and drugging them with gingerbread scented gas … Mortal struggles ensue – mental, physical and supernatural – and the book's myriad main characters are all pulled in. Many scenes in the book are chilling, with bad things happening to several innocent souls. It's best to see this as a gripping summer read, far from the holidays, so you'll have time to bleach the Christmas imaginings of Manx's creepy inner world from your brain.
Starting with the vanity license plate that forms its title, Joe Hill's NOS4A2 is one of the creepiest books I've read in a long time — and I mean that in a good way … He paces the story skillfully with humor, including literary jokes, some of them familial — Maggie's paperweight is a prop pistol marked ‘Property of A. Chekhov,’ and an eerie map includes the Pennywise Circus in Maine. And don't think he's done when he gets to the acknowledgements. That boring last page many books have called ‘A Note on the Type’? In NOS4A2, it's a chiller.
NOS4A2 will pull you in from the first pages, and draw you away from your other responsibilities. If you are going to read it, make sure someone else is watching the kids. (And, for reasons that shall become clear, do make sure someone is watching them.) … Yet as electrifying as NOS4A2 is, Hill's take on vampires is not entirely satisfying. King's Salem's Lot worked because he brought an ancient evil into the modern world – and modernity proved unable to meet the challenge. While Hill's Manx is terrifying, he is a vampire in name only. Hill's talents for invention are evident in every other aspect of the story, and it is hard not to wish he had reimagined the legend, rather than discarding it almost entirely.
Hill delivers a story even more intense and complex than his first two novels, Heart-Shaped Box and Horns. Some elements of the horror are low-key and pervasive threads woven into the novel, such as the twisted ways in which Christmas haunts the characters. At other times, it is gut-twisting and in your face, with gore and sexual violence. His pacing is reminiscent of another horror master, Clive Barker; building steadily, punctuated with more graphic moments of violence until the last third, which is a torrent of intense desperation that makes the book almost impossible to put down. NOS4A2 is an excellent work of horror that stays with the reader long after the pages have been closed … especially when Christmastime rolls ‘round again.
At first glance it’s hard to see how the pieces fit together. NOS4A2 is broken into several volumes each full of a bunch of chapters (Hill continues to toy with the definition of a chapter and how it should be structured) that exist in different eras, locations, and populations. Gradually the puzzle begins to fill in, and the bonds between the seemingly unconnected characters develop and tighten … Like Neil Gaiman, Diana Wynne Jones, China Miéville, and G.K. Chesterton, Joe Hill has the rare talent of being able to manipulate the English language in ways you never before thought possible, and in ways that are wholly unique to him. Every sentence, every phrase, every adjective, every grammatical and editorial choice all have meaning within the bigger picture, oftentimes several competing and contradictory meanings.
It’s fascinating to read Hill’s latest, NOS4A2, which reads like Hill focused his considerable storytelling talent on writing a Stephen King book. In a handful of little touches, it’s blatant about the connection … Manx is a profoundly Stephen King villain—not the simple, implacable evil of Heart-Shaped Box or the secretive mystery of Horns, but a thoroughly playful evil with an elaborate philosophy, a fondness for chattering about it, and a gleeful, almost childish personality … But none of the familiarity in any way gets in the way of NOS4A2’s profoundly satisfying narrative. At his best, King has always been about grounding fantasy and horror in a level of detail that makes it feel real. Hill accomplishes the same thing here. He dives deep into his characters and his startling imaginary world, then explores them at length. NOS4A2 is less stylish than his past novels, and more playful.
It’s as much fantasy-thriller as a descent into the maelstrom, but no matter how you label it, what makes it work best is that it is a novel of well-defined characters, and one character in particular: the Brat, real name Victoria McQueen … Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 is a brilliant exploration of classic and modern monsters and dark fantasies, all cut up, restitched and retooled, sliding you along as if you’re cruising way too fast in a rusty old Cadillac down a dark, twisty road with no lights, bald tires, and no hands on the wheel.
Though there are King-ian shades—the underworld setup, the possessed car, the cool chick—Hill’s story is quite original, and, for horror fans of a certain ironic bent, it’s an unqualified delight, well-written and, within limits, believable. It’s also quite gruesome in spots and altogether quite scary, all of which adds up to a successful exercise in spookiness. Bonus points for being smart and having a young woman as a heroine who doesn’t need saving herself.