Saturday, October 4, 2014

Book review: NOS4A2

by: Joe Hill

There are a couple of things that make a horror story good -- a strong lead with an indomitable will and penchant for reckless bravery, for one; the kind that is almost stupid in its capacity to overcome fear. A villain so believable in his treachery that you cannot imagine ever understanding him, for another; it makes the experience that much more profound when you realize you could empathize. A simple story made complex by elements so human and relatable that you begin to second guess your opinion(s); no one enjoys horror that takes itself far too seriously, or cheap thrills just for the heck of it. Writing so elaborate it has the ability to transport its reader to an entirely different world, because if you wanted to stay with horror close to home, you should have watched the news instead of read a book.

NOS4A2 has all of this. In spades. 

Do you fear what I fear?

Joe Hill's NOS4A2 is a bone-aching, hair chilling magnum opus. A tour de force that proves there is more to the horror genre than it is given credit for. In it, Hill juxtaposes the inherent power of love and the crippling fragility of the human mind. It is a story of how one little girl, extraordinary in that there is nothing explicitly extraordinary about her, goes out looking for trouble, finds it, then runs away. And how she spends the rest of her life running.

Victoria McQueen, The Brat to her dad, and Vicki to her mom, has a knack for finding lost things. She rides on her bicycle, long past the Shorter Way Bridge, a bridge that only she can summon, and finds what (and who) once was lost. On a particularly bad day, following a fight with her mom, Vic looks for trouble. And surely enough, with the help of the Shorter Way Bridge which has never once led her wrong, she finds it in the form of Christmasland.

Charlie Manx is on a mission to spare children from pain. The type of pain that is specific only to a world borne by adults. He whisks them off in his vintage 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith and brings them to a land free of adult incompetency and foible. In his beautiful delusion, because no such place exists, children are free to be children forever. The Bad Bread describes it best -- Christmasland is a place where no pain can touch children, where the pockmarked moon winked at passersby, where clouds weren't really clouds but cotton candy.

For Vic and Charlie, there are 2 incongruous and immutable truths: 1.) The Shorter Way Bridge and Christmasland is as real as the world can get. 2.) Vic is most certainly an institutionalized deranged woman suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder due to a childhood encounter with convicted serial killer and child molester Charles Manx III.

As with everything in life, the best plot lines have the tendency to twist. Hill takes his reader on a wild goose-chase for the truth, while ensuring that the two truths stay within the vicinity of human understanding. Vic may be a victim, but it is surely not of circumstance -- at least, not entirely. She is a flawed human being, with the capacity to do both good and bad; as susceptible to mistakes as you and I. She is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a hero. This is no fantasy novel, and she is no fantasy heroine. Manx, on the other hand, is far more simple. A rarity amongst villains! Yes, like Vic, he is capable of both good and bad -- but that is what makes him even more horrifying. As all of us know, the truly terrifying villains are those who so firmly believe that they are in the right.

There is only one thing Vic and Manx agree on: they ruined each other.

And with that, Joe Hill's mastery of storytelling shines. Vic spends her days running from the past she believes to be true, but knows is an impossibility. But when the comatose serial killer-child molester  from her childhood resurfaces and comes out, ready to exact revenge on his one failure through the kidnapping/ "rescuing" of her child, Vic begins to doubt the reality thrusted on her by her many psychologists and psychiatrists. If Charlie Manx is dead, then who is the man in the beautiful vintage car who has just done away with her child?

In the end, NO24A2 is about a parent's saving love. There is no disappointment more disenchanting than the minute we realize that our parents and elders are not quite the paragons of goodness and heroism we believe them to be -- the time that mom couldn't kiss away the pain, the time dad wasn't able to keep his promise, the time teacher was wrong and couldn't tell you why. But there is no moment better suited to show you that despite all this, there is a different kind of love out there. One that doesn't put the other person on so high a pedestal. NO24A2 is about that kind of love, the adult kind. It is no sap story, but it is also much more than merely a story to induce sleepless nights.

No comments:

Post a Comment