NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
Publisher/date: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (October 15, 2013)
“Innocence ain't all it's cracked up to be, you know. Innocent little kids rip the wings off flies, because they don't know any better. That's innocence.”
Vic McQueen can ride her bike through a bridge and find things on the other side. This bridge is her inscape, her access to the world we live in our minds, separate but also on top of the physical world. Everyone's inscapes are connected. Each trip comes at a price. And she's not the only one with access to the inscape.
Charlie Manx is a kidnapper. But he's also so much more, terribly so much more. He uses his car, a 1938 Wraith with the license plate NOS4A2 to access his inscape. He takes the children there to Christmasland where it's Christmas every day and they can remain childlike in their innocence. The price he has paid is far worse than Vic's.
This was our book club pick this month and I am so grateful it was chosen, because it wasn't even on my radar. I have so much I want to say but I also don't want to ruin it for you. I was glad I had our club to talk about it with folks.
First, let me say that Joe Hill is Stephen King's son, if you didn't already know. Why is this significant? Well, you'll find the writing style to be similar. He inserts vulgarity into the story at unexpected times to set that really gritty horror tone. But at the same time, this brilliant, brilliant man knows how to write from more than one gaze. What do I mean by that?
I find that women complain (rightfully) that men think of what women want from the male gaze. They try to be these big, tough, muscle bound dudes because that's what they think we want. They think we women want to all be skinny and tall and tan, because that's what they like. (The fact that society has fed them this lie is a whole other discussion - but it's a reason many female readers don't like reading books written by men - check out the Twitter page @menwritewomen to see what I'm talking about.)
Joe Hill managed to write a villain like Charlie Manx, who thinks he's the hero because he believes he's saving children from growing into adults, something he considers an awful fate. Charlie hates women especially, "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 chic molting, shedding the fuzz of youth for darker feathers. Women often give up their early tenderness as a child gives up his baby teeth."
At the same time, he also wrote one of the best male characters I've ever read, Vic's boyfriend Lou. I'll be honest, I've never completely understood when I saw women on social media post about their book boyfriends. It's a whole thing, an obsession with a fictional character that they compare living men to. UNTIL NOW. I'm in love with Lou, and I feel like Joe Hill actually might understand the female gaze. Lou is the absolute perfect man. "You are a real honest to God hero. And I don't mean because *leaving some out because spoilers.* That was the easy part. I mean because you've been there for Wayne every single day. Because you made school lunches and you got him to his dentist appointments and you read to him every night. I love you mister."
I actually spent most of the book imagining the angry tweets I would send to Joe Hill if he killed off my favorite character. Hmmm, I wonder what it says about me that I've finally found my book boyfriend in a horror novel. I won't look too closely at that!
And Vic. Poor poor Vic, whose childhood traumas follow her around into a mentally ill adulthood. Manx hates her not just because she found him (I feel like that's pretty obvious so I don't think it's giving anything away) but because she has tattoos and swears and wears cutoffs and isn't the perfect little picture of ladyhood he believes women should be. How many of you readers feel seen now?
Someone commented on my Instagram and said they thought Joe Hill was better than Stephen King, and "sorry don't mean to offend you." Because they know I like King books. But can I say here that I agree that Joe Hill is better, and I think Stephen King knows that and is proud.
6 Stars, it's my page and I make the rules and if you like horror at all, even a little, this one is an absolute MUST read. Excuse me while I go buy everything else written by Joe Hill now.