People think I'm strange because I don't like Christmas. Well, this book did not cure me of this dislike in the slightest, nossir. Read it, and you'll understand.
"You can’t let facts get in the way of the truth."
I've also never been a fan of Christmas music. There's something just *off* in that fake strained cheerfulness that emanates from it. After this book, I dislike it even more because the annoying in it has been joined by the sinister undertones.
Also, the dislike *may* have something to do with working in a department store years ago, cleaning up before closing during the holidays¹ while listening to the never-ending 'Jingle Bells Rock' and 'Rudolf' and 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town' relentlessly playing overhead over and over again while your tired overworked brain is slowly turning to mush.¹
Have you *seen* the mess that hordes of Christmas bargain-hunters leave in the stores??? Have you ever seen the murderous rage in the eyes of quiet little old ladies when they hear that the Christmas ornament - the 50% off one - is sold out??? I still shudder at the memory of that.
If this picture does not terrify you to the depths of your soul, just wait until you finish this book.
As a side note, I've also never been a fan of personalized license plates, either. Making a connection between 'Nosferatu' and NOS4A2 takes special neurons that I apparently lack.
NOS4A2 is the strongest of all Joe Hill's novels, leaving Heart-Shaped Box and Horns in the dust. It's confident and at times ruthless, moving along at a determined pace, never looking back. It has a brand of scary that's also fun, interspersing moments of gore with character development - all that, in a way, resembles the spirit of the earlier works of Hill's famous father (c'mon, you know the comparison to Stephen King was inevitable - but Joe Hill, despite sharing elements of his work with King's writing, has a voice that is nevertheless distinctly his own).
He looked at her and said, “So to recap: There’s one version of your life where Charlie Manx, a dirty ol’ fuckin’ child murderer, kidnapped you from a train station. And you only barely got away from him. That’s the official memory. But then there’s this other version where you crossed an imaginary bridge on a psychically powered bicycle and tracked him down in Colorado all on your own. And that’s the unofficial memory. The VH1 Behind the Music story.”
Since childhood, Vic McQueen had the ability to find lost things. Her way to do so was a bit unconventional: she would speed on her Raleigh bike over a covered bridge - the one that had collapsed a while ago but remained standing in her mind - right to the place where the lost thing was. But, as with anything in life, there's a price to pay - it's not just the debilitating physical side effects that Vic experiences; somehow her life itself seems to veer off the straight and narrow road as she keeps pedaling towards her special bridge on her special bike.
“Imaginary bridge, superpowered bike. Got it.”
"It was a bridge spanning the distance between lost and found, a bridge over what was possible."
Charlie Manx has a different ride - a black 1937 Royce Wraith that would have made a perfect match for Stephen King's infamous Christine. It takes him on a road to Christmasland, a very real place nevertheless contained in the dark recesses of the madman's imagination - a place to which he has brought probably a hundred kids over the years, leaving his henchman to dispense of the mothers and fathers of those children.
Manx has come across Vic when she was still a child - the chilling encounter neither of them can forget years later. Now, many years later, he's on the road again - and Vic, having been through a lot in her life, with the history of institutionalizations and mental breakdowns, having been living in fear of receiving a call from the dead children in Christmasland, - well, Vic is a mother to a young boy now, and would die to protect him.
"It was something, going over all the things that had led her to this place of high rock, endless snows, and hopelessness. She could not quite work out how she had found her way here. She used to be so good at finding the place she wanted to go."
Joe Hill does have an ability to keep the readers at the edge of their seats, feverishly following Vic's unlikely quest to take back what's hers. He creates memorable characters, and Vic McQueen is definitely not the one to easily forget. Tough-as-nails but infinitely vulnerable Vic, with her damaged cracking mind but enough ferocity and fierce protectiveness to become a formidable threat is fascinating. She screws up over and over again, and manages to survive under the blows life deals her, and it's actually painful to watch her get yet another punch from cruel fate. And then, when she refuses to give up, when she charges evil armed with little but a wrench, when she knows she's headed for sure death and yet does not waver from her path, - with all that you cannot help but desperately hope that somehow she will manage to overcome the odds.
And, the rest of the cast, even though they pale when compared to Vic, are quite well written, too. For instance, the Gasmask Man is terrifying and revoltingly pathetic at the same time, Maggie's presence fills the few pages she appears on with sad and gentle life, and young Wayne's strength and fragility are beautifully interwoven with each other.
He does not shy away from packing his novel with action scenes that are vivid and crisp clear. No, he does not quite avoid the pitfalls of having his 100-lbs heroine take an insane number of punches and yet still remain functional - but he does tend to do that less than many other writers. And he does manage to pack such menace and foreboding even in something as innocuous as Christmas music that I felt uncomfortable reading this book in a dark room.
"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."
This book easily lived to all of my expectations, and Joe Hill has cemented his status as much more than just a son of one of my favorite writers. He proved that he's not a couple-of-books wonder but rather a skilled writer whose books I will be looking forward to for many years to come. 4 stars.
"If it’s all right with you, can we skip Christmas this year?”
“If Santa tries to come down our chimney, I’ll send him back up with my boot in his ass. It’s a promise.”