Friday, July 12, 2013

NOS4A2 @ Christmasland

Titled with the vanity plate NOS4A2 (Nosferatu), Joe Hill’s latest might seem to be just another vampire book, but never fear. Hill’s blend of strong characterization, a classic but nuanced good-versus-evil plotline, and paranormal events impinging on the mundane world is reminiscent of Stephen King. His unique interpretation of the vampire tale transcends cliché.

We meet our hero, Vic, when she's only eight and known as The Brat. She gets the coolest bike ever for her birthday, back in the days when a kid could ride around a small town all day without supervision. Her dad warns her never to ride across the Shorter Way Bridge, a decrepit covered structure overdue for collapse. But when Vic’s parents have a fight, she dares herself to do it, wanting to shock them out of their selfish behavior. Her dangerous ride leads to her first discovery of a special and costly talent for finding lost things, no matter how far away.

Years pass. Vic grows up, hurting both from what’s she’s experienced because of her talent, and from her father’s abandonment. At 16, she runs into Mr. Manx for the first time—a man with a gift somewhat like hers, but much much worse. He has the ability to take children to Christmasland, where it’s Christmas morning every day, snowflakes are made of sugar, and there’s no such thing as sadness, conscience, or fear. Where little boys and girls get to go, if they’ll only go with the Gasmask Man and give up their souls. Vic's first encounter brings her close to death, and leaves her terrified, half-believing she's crazy.  Christmasland just won't leave her alone, and Vic must eventually face Manx again, when the well-being of her own son is at stake.

Vic is an extremely distinctive and sympathetic character, damaged and floundering but strong at the core. The love of her life, Lou, a fat motorcyclist/comic book geek/mechanic, is so real and likeable I wish he could come over for dinner. And, of course, there's the tragic but heroic stuttering librarian, Maggie Leah, who I'd be proud to work with, so long as she got the monkey off her back. I finished the book in two days and am still wishing it lasted longer. If, like me, you enjoy horror fiction that relies less on gore and more on mind-bending twists of reality, and poignant, knife-sharp details, give Joe Hill's NOS4A2 a try
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