book review of NOS4A2 by joe hill

nos4a2-cover-featured

I can confidently recommend NOS4A2 to anyone who has ever disappointed themselves or loved another human being or possessed at least 6 creative cells in their entire body.

Plotwise, I’m hesitant to discuss much of what happens in NOS4A2.  I went into the book knowing nothing.  I didn’t even skim the jacket flap.  I read Joe Hill’s Horns last year and enjoyed it so much that I dove into NOS4A2 without so much as a foam tube or pair of arm floaties.  Because of this, a lot of the “what happens next” excitement hinged on me having no idea how the disparate characters were fated to collide… a fate I later learned is pretty much revealed right away on the dust jacket.

So if you haven’t read NOS4A2 yet and I’ve managed to catch you before you’ve read anything about it and you fit the qualifications listed above for someone to whom I would recommend this book, do yourself a serious favor: blindfold yourself, drive to Barnes & Noble, feel your way to to the H section of fiction and purchase a copy, then walk outside and burn the cover before removing the blindfold.

That’s actually kind of a shame because the cover is rather beautiful, so here’s an image so you don’t miss anything:

NOS4A2This is the cover for the audiobook, actually, which is how I read it.  Kate Mulgrew does a fantastic job.

Judging from the cover, I thought it might be about vampires and a road trip and perhaps mosquitoes.  The image has a sterile-yet-gritty feel to it, like the promo material for HBO’s Dexter, so I thought I’d be getting something vaguely similar.  Moreover, Horns was a decidedly ‘red’ book, all seared through with hellfire and passion, so it’d make sense that NOS4A2 would continue the tradition.

I was very wrong.

NOS4A2 isn’t a red book at all.  It’s blue.  Blue and white.  Like snow and diesel fuel and a cold bowl of sky.  In the book’s own words, it’s “a matter of speed and emptiness,” which I suppose doesn’t tell you much about what the story’s about.

Well, fuck you.  I’m not going to tell you what it’s about.  The process of discovery was too delicious for me, and I’m not about to ruin it.

If you absolutely need to know–like if gunmen are holding your wife hostage until you give them a comprehensive analysis of Joe Hill’s most recent novel or something–I’ll be doing a spoiler-drenched critique(?) over here you can check out, but for this post, it’s going to be super vague and tip-toey.

NOS4A2 is a story about a man named Charlie Manx, an alleged pedophile who is in a coma and whose story is told through flashback.  It’s also about The Brat, a little girl who by day goes as Vic McQueen, and who has a special talent for finding things.  It’s also about a doughy pinhead of a man named Bing, who loves Christmas more than anything in the whole wide world.  Those are the pieces as I got them; you figure out how they fit together.

(Pro Tip: read the book.)

If you can’t tell, this is an overwhelmingly positive review.  Hill is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors due to his ability to tell an intriguing story without sacrificing multifaceted characters or thematic literary elements.  In an industry that sometimes seems hellbent on making you pick one of the three, Hill is proving to be an uncompromising bastion of eating cake and having it too.

The only negative things I can think to say regards the perhaps overly-blunt naming conventions that tie characters to their referential objects.  Bing, for instance, whose defining characteristic (among others) is an unhealthy preoccupation with the yuletide season, is named after Bing Crosby of White Christmas fame.  Our heroine McQueen’s name can’t help but conjure the image of ol’ live-fast Steve jumping his motorcycle over a Nazi fence, and lo and behold a bike forms the linchpin around which Vic’s whole life pivots.

But if anything, you might argue that these more obvious connections exist to encourage a perhaps pulp-jaded reader to look for deeper ones.  And the deeper connections definitely exist.  At its core, NOS4A2 is both an examination of the creative process and a crusade against any doctrine of happiness as virtue, but I’ll get into that in my other, spoiler-rich review.

For now, I guess you’ll just have to take my word.  NOS4A2 is an unpredictable, fresh, and merciless romp through a familiar scenario, and it has a beating heart the size of an internal combustion engine.  It’d be a shame to leave it sitting on the shelf.

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