I suppose it was inevitable that I would finally encounter a work from my latest literary heart-throb that simply didn’t enrapture me in the same ways as his other works. I just wasn’t expecting that moment to come so quickly in our relationship. Yet so it went with Joe Hill’s latest offering N0S4A2.
In this particular world of Hill’s devising, there are people who are able to create conduits to other places, either real or fictional, through the power of their minds. For young Victoria “Vic” McQueen, she learns that she can find missing items for people by using her ability to create conduits thanks to her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike and the “ghost” of the Shorter Way Bridge that once stood in ruins near her house. On the flip side, there are people like Charlie Manx, who uses his ability to create a conduit through his connection to his Rolls Royce Wraith (a rather possessive possessed car, if you ask me, Christine) to steal children away to “Christmasland,” a place of his own devising that allows him to drain the children of their life rather vampiristically (in a metaphorical sense) while letting them live in what he considers to be the perfect childhood utopia…a place where it is always Christmas, always happy, always festive. Of course, McQueen and Manx cross paths early in the novel (it only makes sense since one is a stealer and one is a finder), and cross paths again years later, to settle the score from the previous encounter.
Hilarity…well, you know the drill.
I’m not really certain what exactly didn’t click with me with this newest tale from Hill. I enjoyed the fact that the protagonist was a strong-willed girl with a wicked imagination and a pretty fascinating secret ability…and who would grow up into a flawed but still likeable, still imaginative young woman, damaged by that ability and seeking respite from the scars of that damage.
The supporting characters were also quite interesting and multifaceted, for the most part. I think, though, that the ultimate failing of this book, for me, was in both the story and its antagonist. First, I’m kind of through with vampires. And while this book isn’t exactly a vampire tale, the invocation of vampirism through the slightly-too-cute-for-its-own-good title forces me to envision Charlie Manx’s draining of life from the children he kidnaps as akin to the actions of that fabled creature of the night. Plus, there’s the hook teeth and the only traveling after dark that really hit it home.
Really, though, more than vampires, Charlie Manx slowly began to evolve into one particular character in my mind, based on descriptions of his physical appearance, his age, his mannerisms, his olden-days slang…halfway through the book, I realized that I was picturing Manx as an even more ill-tempered C. Montgomery Burns.
I’m willing to bet that Hill would not think this was excellent at all.
Of course, I then began to imagine Manx’s latest henchman, Bing Partridge, as a cross between Smithers and Barney. I even started picturing Vic McQueen as sort of like Lisa Simpson. Unfortunately, I also started to picture her lover as Comic Book Guy (for reasons that are quite obvious if you read this book). Again, all this was not helping at all with the horror element.
Worst. Comparisons. Ever.
Plus, there’s the fact that Hill crammed as many in-jokes as possible into this book, both in reference to his own previous books and most definitely in reference to his father’s works. N0S4A2 contains a panoply of Kingian references and allusions, which I admit both amused and irritated me. I’m glad that Hill is starting to be a little less tetchy about people knowing he is King’s son. However, a few times his “wink-wink” throwbacks to some of his father’s greatest hits (Cujo, Pet Sematary, Christine) teetered very, very close to too cute. I don’t want “cute” in a horror novel.
It wasn’t until after I read the book that I learned that I probably should have looked for the audio version instead. The entire book was read by none other than Kate Mulgrew. You have no idea how intriguing and frightening this is to me. I feel like I need to experience this story as narrated by Captain Janeway. I will absorb her powers and make a nice Kiev (and if you get that joke, Red’s got a place on her kitchen staff just for you).
Final Verdict: I’m still very much enamored of Hill as a writer, but I definitely did not consider this to be one of his better offerings. Still, if I can get my hands on a copy of Kate Mulgrew reading it? You bet your sweet Cujo I’m gonna give that a whirl.